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    Nir Rosen’s Aftermath, an extraordinary feat of reporting, follows the contagious spread of radicalism and sectarian violence that the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ensuing civil war have unleashed in the Muslim world.
    Rosen—who the Weekly Standard once bitterly complained has “great access to the Baathists and jihadists who make up the Iraqi insurgency”— has spent nearly a decade among warriors and militants who have been challenging American power in the Muslim world. In Aftermath, he tells their story, showing the other side of the U.S. war on terror, traveling from the battle-scarred streets of Baghdad to the alleys, villages, refugee camps, mosques, and killing grounds of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and finally Afghanistan, where Rosen has a terrifying encounter with the Taliban as their “guest,” and witnesses the new Obama surge fizzling in southern Afghanistan.
    Rosen was one of the few Westerners to venture inside the mosques of Baghdad to witness the first stirrings of sectarian hatred in the months after the U.S. invasion. He shows how weapons, tactics, and sectarian ideas from the civil war in Iraq penetrated neighboring countries and threatened their stability, especially Lebanon and Jordan, where new jihadist groups mushroomed. Moreover, he shows that the spread of violence at the street level is often the consequence of specific policies hatched in Washington, D.C. Rosen offers a seminal and provocative account of the surge, told from the perspective of U.S. troops on the ground, the Iraqi security forces, Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents that were both allies and adversaries. He also tells the story of what happened to these militias once they outlived their usefulness to the Americans.
    Aftermath is both a unique personal history and an unsparing account of what America has wrought in Iraq and the region. The result is a hair-raising, 360-degree view of the modern battlefield its consequent humanitarian catastrophe, and the reality of counterinsurgency.
From Booklist
    This could not be a more timely or trenchant examination of the repercussions of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Journalist Rosen has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and Harper’s, among other publications, and authored In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006). His on-the-ground experience in the Middle East has given him the extensive contact network and deep knowledge—advantages that have evaded many, stymied by the great dangers and logistical nightmares of reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. This work is based on seven years of reporting focused on how U.S. involvement in Iraq set off a continuing chain of unintended consequences, especially the spread of radicalism and violence in the Middle East. Rosen offers a balanced answer to the abiding question of whether our involvement was worth it. Many of his points have been made by others, but Rosen’s accounts of his own reactions to what he’s witnessed and how he tracked down his stories are absolutely spellbinding.
— Connie Fletcher

Nir Rosen AFTERMATH Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World

    To my mother and father for making me who I am,
    To Tiffany, my love, my challenge,
    To Dakota, may you defy the world
    the way you defy me.


    “A searing, first-hand account of the consequences of America’s ‘war on terrorism’ by one of the most respected voices on the Middle East. Honest, fearless, devastating. No one but Nir Rosen could have written this book.”
    —Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism
    “A brilliantly told story of post invasion Iraq—and the Middle East’s descent into a sectarian hell mess we’ll all pay for generations to come. There’s no one out there more courageous or better equipped to tell it than Nir Rosen. And when Rosen speaks, I listen.”
    —Robert Baer, author of See No Evil
    “Nir Rosen has been reporting from Iraq for years the way it should be reported—from the inside out. He spends his time in Iraq not at American news conferences in the secure Green Zone, but in the villages and cities of the battered nation, interviewing the victims of Saddam Hussein as well as the victims of our seven-year-old war. His dispatches, and this book, reflect the madness of the mission.”
    —Seymour Hersh
    “Nir Rosen is always provocative—he makes you see another side of an issue. In Aftermath, Rosen, at great personal risk, captured how Iraqis, Lebanese and Afghans from across society view U.S. actions in their nations. You may disagree and you will probably be angry, but if you wish to understand these conflicts and their impacts into the future, you need to read this book.”
    —Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, United States Marine Corps (Ret.), author, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century
    “For Americans, the story of U.S. military involvement in the Islamic world centers on ‘us’ not ‘them,’ with Afghans and Iraqis cast as victims or bystanders. In this brilliantly reported and deeply humane book, Nir Rosen demolishes this self-serving picture, depicting the relationship between the occupied and the occupiers in all its nuanced complexity.”
    —Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War
    “If you think you understand the war in Iraq, or just think you should try to, read this book. This is a deep dive through the last seven years of America’s foray into the Middle East. No one will agree with everything here, but anyone interested in what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan will benefit from reading it.”
    —Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble
    “The world would be a more dangerous place without Nir Rosen’s Aftermath. His bracing recounting of the invasion of Iraq and subsequent insurgency, and blunt dissection of the myths surrounding the surge are an essential antidote to the complacency that has set in as America exits Iraq—and which could lead to similar debacles in the future.”
    —Parag Khanna, author of The Second World: How Emerging Powers Are Redefining Global Competition in the Twenty-first Century
    “Aftermath is a masterwork, the product of a life devoted to a relentless pursuit of the knowledge and understanding of strange men who walk in nearly unimaginable paths across the far places of the world. I first met Nir Rosen when we sat together on a panel discussion on the ‘Newshour.’ I wondered then how this quiet young man could have acquired so much expertise so early in life. By the time of our next meeting years later I had learned of his incredible persistence and willingness to go and sit among those whom most of us would fear to meet at all. Over the years I have come to expect to hear from him or of him in his wanderings in places so perilous that one would expect that only soldiers would venture there. Nir Rosen’s marvelous book is the record of the disaster that ignorance, often willful ignorance produced in Iraq, continues to produce in Afghanistan and is likely to produce in places like Yemen and Somalia. Read Aftermath and hope not to repeat this history.”
    —Colonel Walter Patrick “Pat” Lang, United States Army (Ret.), former executive at the Defense Intelligence Agency
    “It is a painful experience to read Nir Rosen’s highly informed account of the destruction of Iraq and the spread of the plague of sectarian violence incited by the invasion to Lebanon and beyond. The image this meticulously detailed rendition brings to mind is of a brutal ignoramus wielding a sledgehammer to smash a complex structure he does not understand, with unpredictable but predictably awful consequences. Amazingly, Rosen finds rays of hope in the ruins. No less compelling, and distressing, is his vivid account of his experiences in Taliban-controlled territory. An indispensable contribution to the understanding of great contemporary tragedies.”
    —Noam Chomsky
    “Nir Rosen has almost single handedly rescued the name of journalism in the Middle East from a class of reporters who function as courtiers and propagandists for the military and our political elite. Rosen’s fierce independence and honesty, as well as an ability to see the wars we are fighting from all sides, make his book exceptional for its nuance, complexity and insight into our bloody march through the Muslim world. Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World is a stark, unvarnished account of the folly of empire, the futility of violence as an instrument of reform and democracy and the gross ineptitude of our political and military class. Rosen lays before his readers the anguished voices and experiences of those we occupy. He does this with a sensitivity and cultural literacy that is as rare as it is essential. Aftermath is one of the most important contemporary accounts of America’s misguided ‘war on terror.’”
    —Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Empire of Illusion
    “Nir Rosen has written a deeply reported, authoritative account of the American occupation of Iraq and the regional fallout from that adventure. Aftermath deepens our understanding of the events of the troubled past decade in a rich and satisfying manner. Rosen also gives voice, character and nuance to the Iraqi side of the story, which very few have had the courage or ability to do.”
    —Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc., and The Osama bin Laden I Know
    “As a reporter, Nir Rosen scares the dickens out of me. He’s willing to go where few will follow and to give voice to those who are rarely heard. His reporting is all the more precious because of it.”
    —Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower

Also by Nir Rosen

    In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq


Gentlemen, you have transformed
our country into a graveyard
You have planted bullets in our heads,
and organized massacres
Gentlemen, nothing passes like that
without account
All what you have done
to our people is
registered in notebooks

—Mahmoud Darwish
    Translation: As‘ad Abu Khalil

Research support for this book was provided by


Part One



    ABDEL SATTAR AL-MUSAWI’S DECOMPOSED REMAINS LAY ON THE ground above his grave. His older brothers sat beside them, holding them, crying. Although he had been arrested in 1998 and killed in 2001, they had just learned of his death three days earlier, and now they had come to claim his body. “His crime was loving freedom,” said his friend Abdel Karim, who had come to find his own brother too.
    It was April 2003, and I was beginning my career as a journalist. I had been in Iraq for only a few weeks, and I thought nothing good would come of the war: it was predicated on lies, and would subvert democracy and law at home as well as abroad. I was skeptical that a foreign occupation would be welcomed by Iraqis, and I knew that the American civilian and military leaders were ill prepared to understand a different culture, especially a Muslim one, and especially after the trauma of September 11. But I had come to Iraq wanting to give a voice to Iraqis, and this meant restraining my views and listening. As Iraqis rubbed their eyes and awoke to the new reality in a mix of shock, depression, and euphoria, I was as confused as they were; nothing seemed black-and-white.
    With the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of thousands of political prisoners were finally being revealed to their families. Iraqis could find files on their loved ones and discover what had become of their fate. More often than not, the news was not good.
    Several dozen members of the Musawi family had come to claim four of their brethren from the Karkh cemetery. The cemetery, in Haswa, just outside Baghdad, entombed political prisoners, many of whom had been murdered at the nearby Abu Ghraib prison. All four murdered members of the Musawi family were cousins: Abdel Sattar al-Musawi, born in 1966, hailed from the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad and was married with two children; Salah Hadi al-Musawi, born in 1974, was from Baghdad’s Thawra neighborhood; Salah Hasan al-Musawi, born in 1971, was also from Thawra, as was Saad Qasim al-Musawi, born in 1967, who was married with six children. The body of family friend Qasim Ahmad al-Maliki was here too. He was Abdel Sattar’s age, from Thawra as well, married, with no children. All had been killed in 2001. “They were killed for no reason,” a friend of the Musawis explained. “There was no justice, no court, no defense.”
    The Musawis had traveled by bus and in a pickup truck. They carried with them flimsy wooden coffins made of boards and a black flag of mourning. At seven in the morning, they were the first family in the cemetery that day. The dafan, or grave digger, Muhamad Muslim Muhamad, was a small man in sweatpants with a buttoned shirt tucked in. He assisted with an obsequious eagerness, and I suspected that he was compensating for an unconfessed complicity in the crimes he helped bury.
    Karkh was the size of a football field, surrounded by a brick wall fringed with eucalyptus trees. The ground was a sandy gray, with mounds to mark the shallow graves. Some of the mounds had holes burrowed into them where animals had fed on the corpses. On a stick in each mound was a card with a number on it. The Musawi family had the plot numbers for their dead, and Muhamad led them to the first one, casually strutting over other graves. It belonged to Abdel Sattar. When the family found the grave, the previously silent men collapsed in loud sobs. They kneeled on the ground and clung to one another, quieting down only when the grave digger began to undo his work. They watched in an apprehensive and lachrymose silence. Perhaps they still hoped that the grave would be empty? The digging slowed as the earth being removed turned to a wet, dark red, as if stained with blood. Muhamad abandoned his shovel and used his hands. Abdel Sattar’s exhumed body was the color of the earth, thin and dry. Amid calls for “my brother!” his body was placed on a plastic sheet and wrapped in a kiffin, or white cloth. It was then placed in the wooden coffin to await the trip to Najaf, south of Baghdad, where it would be buried in the City of Peace—the biggest cemetery in the world outside China, and the preferred burial site for all Shiites.
    As Abdel Sattar’s brothers and a handful of others remained by his coffin, the rest of the family moved on to another cousin’s grave. The body emerged in separate pieces, and the bones were placed together in a pile around the skull. By nine in the morning six other families had arrived to reclaim their loved ones, and their wailing cries could be heard from all corners of the cemetery. I couldn’t help but cry too. Abdel Sattar’s former employer was also present. “He was a lovely boy,” he said. I asked if this had happened to many people he knew. He gestured behind him to the hundreds of graves and said, “See for yourself.”
    I felt ashamed to be intruding on the Musawis’ private pain, and I sobbed with them. One month into my career as a journalist, I was not yet able to watch other people’s pain without participating in it.
    Hussein al-Musawi told me he had served time in the Saddam City security prison with his four murdered cousins. He was jailed for seventy days beginning in July 2001 because the regime had learned that in 1991, after the failed uprising against Saddam following his defeat by the Americans, a relative of the family attempted to defect to Iran. The relative had visited Abdel Sattar before escaping, and this was the cause of the Musawi family’s suffering: eleven men were arrested. In prison Hussein’s interrogators had tortured him with electricity. They had tied his hands behind his back and hung him from them, dislocating his shoulders. And they had beaten him with cables and metal rods until he was drenched in his own blood. At the cemetery he told me he would still be able to recognize the faces of the security officers who had done this to them. “If I saw them I would seek revenge,” Hussein said. “I would eat them.”
    Before leaving the cemetery, several men of the Musawi family voiced their resentment toward the Arab press. “They were a part of these crimes,” one said. “They covered it up. They always said Saddam was a hero, and they took his money.”

Baghdad—City of Decay

    The Musawis had not known whether their lost sons were dead or alive until three days before they dug up the bodies. They received the information from a remarkable organization called the Association of Free Prisoners. Located in the confiscated riverside villa of a former security official in the Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad, the Association formed right after the war ended. Muhamad Jamal Abdel Amir, a twenty-eight-year-old volunteer, explained that the Association was created by four former prisoners. It was an entirely Iraqi project; the founders had not coordinated their activities with anyone foreign or received any outside help. After the war, when Iraqis began looting the headquarters of the security organizations that had terrorized them for so long, many handed over the files they found to the Association.
    On the external walls of the Association hung sheets of paper with alphabetical listings of prisoners’ names. Hundreds of desperate people ran their fingers down the lists taped to the walls, hoping to learn their relatives’ fate. Inside, past the two boys with machine guns who guarded the Association, workers bustled back and forth, their faces blocked by the immense piles of documents they carried to different rooms in order to organize them by subject. They planned to enter all the information into a database, but for now the dozens of rooms were full of thousands of files going back to the 1960s. The files were stacked on top of one another, stored in sacks or kept in their original file cabinets. They were marked “Dawa” (for a banned Islamist party) or “Communist,” or had other labels that indicated independent political activity—all designating the subjects as victims of ruthless repression.
    New files continued to come in by the thousands from all over Iraq. One revealed that a soldier accused of joining the Dawa Party in 1981 and criticizing the regime had been sentenced to five years in prison for his crimes. Another file documented the mass execution of sixteen people. Saad Muhamad, a volunteer at the Association responsible for gathering information, explained he was imprisoned for four years for criticizing Saddam. He showed me a Procrustean British-made traction couch that had been found in the general security headquarters. It was used during interrogations to stretch victims until their bodies broke and tore. He also showed me a meat grinder used for humans.
    I found my own trove of records one day as I was walking through Baghdad’s streets. In the poor neighborhood of Betawin, I stumbled across an abandoned police station housing the Saadun General Security Directory Office on its second floor. It was clear that a systematic attempt had been made to destroy the documents on the second floor, presumably by the minor intelligence officials who had worked there. I found two overturned document shredders and thin strings of paper strewn all over the floor, along with broken glass and ashes, the only remnants of the bureaucratic records of various horrors. Most file cabinets and their contents had been thrown into a few rooms that were torched; all that remained in the drawers were ashes. A young Christian boy brought sacks for me to load files into. Those that were salvageable documented the mundane daily operations of a dictatorship’s local security station over the previous years, right up to March 2003, the final days before the war. The files recorded: the 2001 duties of security officers, changes of residence of ordinary Iraqi citizens, information from a snitch about a stolen antique sword, lists of people belonging to enemy or sectarian organizations, lists of people who criticized Saddam, lists of people under surveillance, reports on people observing religious ceremonies, information on participants in the 1991 Shiite uprising, weekly orders to spread proregime rumors and combat antiregime rumors, lists of executed political prisoners and the reasons for their execution, information on bank employees in Baghdad, lists of spies in mosques and churches, names of applicants to study in the Islamic university, reports on people who had tried to leave Iraq illegally, orders to spread rumors that Iraq could defeat the U.S. and would attack Israel and liberate Palestine, a list of people accused of belonging to a group seeking to avenge the murder of Shiite leader Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and a report about a man accused of breaking a picture of Saddam, among others.
    One dense folder particularly caught my attention. It contained numerous security service memos concerning the arrest of Abed Ali Safai Ahmad, who had been accused of insulting Saddam and the Baath Party. According to the files Ahmad was a taxi driver, born in 1975, who lived in the Shiite slums then known as Saddam City. He was a veteran of the war against Iran, and one of his brothers had been killed in that war.
    On July 4, 2002, the leadership of the Abtal al-Tahrir (Heroes of Liberation) section of the Al Aqsa group office of the Baath Party ordered the arrest of Ahmad for his “assault on the person of the master and leader the President may Allah bless and protect him.” Basically, he stood accused of assaulting Saddam, and it had been decreed that he undergo detention for “a reasonable period.”
    Basher Aziz al-Tamimi, Ahmad’s neighbor, also a taxi driver living in Saddam City, testified against him. A staunch Baath Party member from the Al Aqsa branch, Tamimi alleged that he encountered a very drunk Ahmad on the night of July 3. According to Tamimi, Ahmad suggested they sell a privately owned car, but Tamimi reminded him that such a sale would be illegal. Tamimi then testified that Ahmad cursed Saddam Hussein, saying, “Saddam’s sister’s pussy over this law!” (In Arabic, as in any other language, referring to the vagina of a man’s female relatives is a terrible insult.) Tamimi asked Ahmad why he was attacking the president when he knew that Tamimi was a member of the Baath Party. Ahmad is quoted as replying: “Your sister’s pussy and the Baath Party’s sister’s pussy!” A fistfight ensued. Tamimi presently reported the case to his Baathist supervisor, Saad Khalaf: “He requested I file a written report, and then we went to Shahab because he is responsible for the branch security.” The men organized a group to go to Ahmad’s house and confront him. Apparently, when they arrived Ahmad hit Tamimi and threatened, “I will shave your mustache and the Baath Party’s mustache.” (In Iraq a mustache is often considered a symbol of manhood and honor, and threatening to shave a man’s mustache—like referring to the genitals of a female relative—is a terrible insult. A man can also take an oath, swearing by his mustache, and if he or his sister, for example, has been humiliated, he can shave his mustache and refuse to grow it until his honor has been restored.)
    Other witnesses testified in support of Ahmad’s accusers. In his defense Ahmad claimed, “I did not assault the person of the master and the leader president, Allah bless him and keep him.” Ahmad insisted he had witnesses who supported his side of the story. He admitted that he had assaulted Tamimi on the night the party committee came to arrest him: “I was in a bad temper and I hit him, and as he does not have a mustache I said to him, I shave yours and the party’s mustache, and I did not mean to direct the assault on the party in my words. . . . I was under the influence of alcohol and was drunk and in a bad temper for I had a brother who was martyred in the great battle of Qadisiat Saddam. His name was Abad al-Radha, and he died in 1986. . . . I seek forgiveness, and this is my testimony.” Ahmad claimed that Tamimi owed him ten thousand dinars and that when he asked for it back they got into an argument. Ahmad was jailed but released in an amnesty granted two months later.
    Another file I found documented the arrest of a woman accused of being a witch. I tracked down the accused witch, Aliya Jasem, who lived in the village of Huseiniya, north of Baghdad. Amid sewage and waste-filled unpaved roads where half-naked toddlers played, I finally found Aliya’s modest house. Her husband, Sadiq Naji Muhamad, was a tailor in Baghdad. They had four children. Sadiq had been a prisoner of war in Iran for nine years. He told me that Shiite prisoners were singled out for special punishment by the Iranian guards, who viewed them as traitors fighting for Sunnis. He was held in the Hashmetiya prison in Tehran, where he saw many fellow prisoners killed or tortured.
    As an unrelated male, I could not meet Aliya; I could only catch a glimpse of her silhouette or the end of her dress, hear her voice as she spoke with her husband and hear her moving about in the kitchen. Sadiq related their shared story. Aliya was a fortune teller, psychic, and traditional healer. Many Iraqi Shiites believe that descendants of the Prophet Muhammad can treat the spirit using the Koran. Aliya was one such descendant. She treated spiritual ailments such as depression. If a woman had been expelled from her husband’s family’s home, Aliya could treat her and she would be taken back. If a dog had attacked a child, she would open and close the Koran three times in the child’s face in order to cure it. She cured women who were not wanted as wives by placing special stones in front of the afflicted woman’s house, washing her, and reading from the Koran and the sayings of Imam Ali, Muhammad’s nephew and a key figure for Shiites. Sadiq proudly related that even though Aliya could not read or write, she could know everything about a person by looking at her face.
    When Aliya was a child, her legs were paralyzed. No doctor could treat her, so her family took her to a Shiite shrine near Hilla—where, Sadiq explained, she was able to stand and walk. Since that moment she had possessed special powers. “There are two types of magic,” said Sadiq, “the devil’s magic, practiced by some sects in Iraq but which is against the Koran, and merciful magic, which can combat the devil’s magic and which she practiced.”
    Aliya was paid for her services, but very little. Traditional healing is very common in Iraq, and since every woman in the neighborhood knew about her (she only treated women), word of her abilities spread. Sadiq maintained that most women in his wife’s field were also security agents or collaborators. The security service wanted Aliya to work with them because she had access to every woman in the city and could discover the secrets of each home, such as who was involved in illegal political activity. Aliya refused to be an agent and was subsequently accused of harboring an anti-Saddam political group in her home. In describing this course of events, Sadiq accused the mayor of being a security agent and Baath Party official.
    On August 10, 2002, Aliya was arrested by the Iraqi Security Forces. She was found guilty of witchcraft and spent two months in jail. The order to arrest her came from the national security directorate. The documents said she was released because of her husband’s request. He wrote a letter to the security service saying that she had only been using special spiritual techniques to cure ailments of the soul. She only had treated women and only had used the Koran. Sadiq asked for another chance, promising that Aliya would never practice healing again. He also mentioned that he had been a POW in Iran and had chosen to return to Iraq, unlike other Shiites who had joined Iranian-sponsored anti-Saddam militias.
    Although Aliya was sentenced to six months, she was released after seventy days from the Rashas women’s prison (she was transferred from the Al Rusafa prison) in a general amnesty. Aliya had been beaten in the police station, and Sadiq was still bitter. “She is a good wife, and they put her in the same prison with prostitutes,” he complained. “She was so traumatized she has ceased performing her magic.”
    After her release Aliya went to the tomb of Abbas, an important Shiite shrine to one of Ali’s sons, and said, “If I am really your relative, prove it by destroying Saddam and all his men within a year.” Six months later, his government fell. Sadiq explained that this happened because “God answered the prayers of those who had suffered.”

    I AM OFTEN ASKED now if it was all worth it. Would it have been better to leave Saddam in power? Are Iraqis better or worse off than they were before the American war? I never know what to say. How do you compare different kinds of terror? Those who were spared Saddam’s prisons and executioners may be better off, though they have not been spared the American prisons, or attacks, or the resistance’s bombs, or the death squads of the civil war. The Kurds are certainly better off, on their way to independence, benefiting from their relative stability and improved economy. But the rest of Iraq? Under Saddam the violence came from one source: the regime. Now it has been democratically distributed: death can come from anywhere, at all times, no matter who you are. You can be killed for crossing the street, for going to the market, for driving your car, for having the wrong name, for being in your house, for being a Sunni, for being a Shiite, for being a woman. The American military can kill you in an operation; you can be arrested by militias and disappear in Iraq’s new secret prisons, now run by Shiites; or you can be kidnapped by the resistance or criminal gangs. Americans cannot simply observe the horror of Iraq and shake their heads with wonder, as if it were Rwanda and they had no role. America is responsible for the chaos that began with the invasion and followed with the botched and brutal occupation. Iraq’s people suffered under the American occupation, the civil war, and the new Iraqi government, just as they did under the American-imposed sanctions and bombings before the war and just as they did under the years of Baathist dictatorship.
    While the spontaneous burst of repressed fury from one segment of Iraqi society often caused more damage to property than the American bombs, another segment demonstrated solidarity and a volunteer spirit eager to restore security and normalcy. Common civilians stood all day directing traffic in a country with no traffic lights or rules, where there was absolute liberty to drive anywhere, in any direction, at any speed. These volunteers protected neighborhoods and established order, but it was too late. After the war, looters pillaged the country, stripping everything but the paint from the buildings they preyed upon. Under the gaze of U.S. troops, looters destroyed the physical infrastructure of the Baathist state, while the U.S. occupation eliminated its bureaucracy.
    The atmosphere of lawlessness that pervaded the country in those first few days and weeks never went away. Eventually it allowed for criminals, gangs, and mafias to take over; it replaced the totalitarian state and the fear it had imposed with complete indifference to the idea of a state. It was a shock from which Iraqis did not recover. In Baghdad the dominant man in any area was called a shaqi. He was normally a thug who would sometimes engage in extortion and other small crimes; after the war these shaqis were recruited into armed groups and even religious militias.
    A few weeks after the war against Saddam’s regime ended and before the war against the resistance began, I moved into a house in the Mansour district, where I stayed for a month. I was stringing for Time magazine, but I clashed with my colleagues, who were focused on the English-speaking elite Iraqis, the American military, and the Shiite clerical establishment, but ignored the Iraqi street, the mosques, the Sadrists. At night, to the sound of gunfire and frogs calling, I would sit by the pool and watch bats swoop down to sip water, as I fought loneliness by making calls on the satellite phone to my future wife. Taha was our somnolent guard. He arrived in the afternoon and left in the morning. He had a chair in the driveway, where he sat with his Kalashnikov leaning lazily against the wall. I bought newspapers for him every day because I sympathized with the solitude and ennui of his job, but mostly so that he would remain awake a little longer. He was a sound sleeper. He sat reading the newspapers, or staring in front of him, his head hanging down wearily, and evinced no perceptible reaction when machine gun fire erupted outside our walls, as it did intermittently all night. I grew accustomed to it, but sometimes, when I was sitting on the lawn eating dinner and a burst went off on our street, I still jumped.
    Five minutes from the house was a market that sold looted goods and heavy-caliber machine guns, bazookas, grenade launchers, RPGs, handguns, and ammunition. The grenade launcher was fifty dollars. I was inquiring about prices one day when a large burst was fired from right behind me. I leaped high in the air, checking my body for holes. The sellers were demonstrating their merchandise to interested consumers by firing them into the sky.
    Not far from the neighborhood I was living in was the Washash district, its narrow streets awash with sewage. Like much of Baghdad, a greenish brown deluge had descended upon the streets, reaching from one side to another. Residents waded through the putrid liquid, and children ran barefoot through it. Women gathered in a loud gaggle, anxious to voice their complaints. There was no electricity, no gas, the water was dirty, and their children were sick. There was shooting all night, and they were afraid to go out. These families, like 60 percent of Iraqis, relied entirely on the state’s food distribution program to survive.
    In a field in the Jihad neighborhood of Baghdad, I found every little boy’s fantasy. Several dozen abandoned Iraqi tanks lay beside bushes and palm trees. Their treads had been sabotaged by the Americans, but they had plenty of ammunition. Fifty feet away were mud houses, with cows beneath the shade of a tree. A troop of local boys, ages five to twelve, avoided the cluster bombs on the ground and climbed on top of and inside the tanks. They lit some explosive powder. Somebody blew up a tank, and the turret shot a few dozen meters in the air before embedding itself in the ground by a house. I gave an eleven-year-old named Ali a dollar to show me around. He was timid at first, denying ever having played with the tanks, so I asked him to show me the tanks others had played with, and then I asked him which one he had played with, and which one he and his friends had shot, and he admitted more and more. His cousins joined us and said they were scared to take me to the ammunition. I told them they were girls, and they said, “No, we are strong!” and puffed their chests. Then their uncle showed up and ruined our fun. He told me he was scared for the children, but it didn’t seem like he was making any attempt to control their behavior.
    My driver’s children, about five and three years old, played with ammunition their uncle had found in a nearby arms depot that had been abandoned and looted. He showed me live anti-aircraft bullets and a bundle of detonation cords for explosives, which Iraqis were using to cook. Five-year-old Fahad lit one and watched the flame shoot through it while his three-year-old sister held one of the charges in her mouth. In a restaurant where I often had lunch, I took note of an increasingly common sight—a customer walked in with a pistol stuck in his belt behind him.
    We assumed with egotistical condescension that Iraqis were “used to” the ubiquitous hardship that has been their unearned fate, as if they were different from us, suffered less than we did, and did not have the same hopes for a prosperous, peaceful life. Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world, and Iraqis were in no way used to the nadir to which life had sunk. Since the Gulf War they had slowly watched their heavily developed, educated, and industrialized society deteriorate and regress to a preindustrial era. Power, water, and security were not just abstractions; they meant life or death.
    Imagine bombs raining on your city, the ground shaking, the walls reverberating. Imagine your city losing its power, its water, its security, its communications, and its government. Law and order disappear, weapons abound, machine guns rattle, and bullets fly. Mountains of garbage grow higher on the streets as goats, donkeys, and children sift through them, dispersing the waste everywhere. Rivers of sewage cut through neighborhoods and roads, and people wade through them. The food supply dwindles, dead dogs litter the streets, their legs frozen in midair with rigor mortis, and a modern city becomes a jungle. Hundreds of thousands of foreign occupiers are ensconced in the bedrooms and barracks of the former dictator, their leviathan tanks dominating traffic, but the newcomers do not replace the system they destroyed. Armed gangs roam freely, and dogmatic religious organizations attempt to fill the power vacuum, though they too have no experience in governance and espouse an intolerant and regressive political ideology.
    A UN representative explained to me that after the war Iraq had “gone back to the stone age.” It was a stone age lived in the midst of a modern state. Sheep were herded through traffic jams, unexploded bombs hid like snakes, diarrhea killed children minutes away from immense hospitals, and tantalizing glimpses of a different possibility beckoned on satellite television—it was not an impossible or unfamiliar dream but a return to the future Iraqis had taken for granted only a decade or two ago.
    Baghdad in 2003 was a neglected city, broken like the spirit of its people, who seemed ashamed that they had not put up more of a fight against the occupiers, as was expected by the rest of the world. Um Qasr in the south took a week to fall, but the Republican Guard protecting the city barely put up a fight. They were perceived outside Iraq as the elite, as those who would fight to the death for their city, but this mythic status had more to do with their privilege than anything else. The American military was warned that the battle for Baghdad would be the most bitter and desperate. The Republican Guard felt no loyalty to Baghdad, though. They were terrified of the American juggernaut, and they could see what had already transpired in the rest of the country.
    The media showed Iraq only during the day, when stores were open and Americans patrolled. At night, darkness and fear emerged. Most people had no electricity and resorted to oil lamps and fans made from straw to cope with the heat—which drove some to sleep on their roofs, under the moonlight.
    There were rumors that Americans were paying three dollars for every cluster bomb returned. It did not matter if the rumors were false. If people believed them, they would touch a cluster bomb; and if a bomb was moved, it would explode. Children played with them, attracted to their shape. A child threw a stone at one and blew up a nearby house.
    Iraq had thousands of locations serving as weapons depots that contained unexploded ordnances, abandoned missiles, armored vehicles, and tanks. Even if the Americans had known where to look, there were not enough soldiers to protect all of the sites from looters. Removing them required a delicate expertise, which meant that some locations might take several days to clear. Baghdadis would have to wait years for their city to be free from the dangerous detritus of war that the American and Iraqi militaries had left behind.
    On streets throughout Baghdad people tried to hawk their wares, hoping that buyers would be interested in the screws, pipes, sneakers, computers, soccer balls, AK-47s, and grenade launchers they had likely stolen. Every neighborhood had its own weapons bazaar, an unofficial collection of a few dozen men, who displayed heavy weaponry of every variety and eagerly demonstrated their use by firing them repeatedly into the air right next to you. A rocket-propelled grenade launcher could be found for fifty thousand dinars, or fifty dollars. When an American patrol drove by, the men hid their goods under boxes or in the trunks of their cars, and then took them out again as soon as the patrol moved on. The chatter of Kalashnikov shots and exchanges of fire punctured the empty silence of Baghdad nights. Iraqis evinced no perceptible reaction to these new sounds; they were normal, and no thought was given to the unknown circumstances and actors responsible for nearby violence or to its many victims.
    The victims usually ended up in Baghdad’s Criminal Medicine Department, which squatted on a muddy congested road next to the Ministry of Health. On the morning I visited it in May 2003, a busload of sobbing women sat in the entrance. An old man vomited on a wall to the side, while several other men sat glumly on the floor. An empty coffin made of wooden planks lay abandoned by the entrance, a large blood stain in its center. The sour stench of death wafted out into the halls. Ninety percent of Baghdad’s violently killed passed through the Criminal Medicine Department before burial. Ever since Baghdad fell on April 9, Dr. Lazim had been seeing an average of fifteen to twenty-five corpses a day—all murdered, he said, pointing to a large stack of files on a shelf and opening a drawer to show another stack. Before the war he would see about five such cases a month. The state had a monopoly on violence, but victims of the regime were taken elsewhere. He said it was also possible to accommodate oneself to life under Saddam, and to live without arousing the state’s ire and incurring its wrath. The new violence was random, and Lazim attributed it to the lack of security.
    “Weapons are easy to find, and Iraqis are full of anxiety from three wars and the economic circumstances after 1991,” Lazim said. Since it was so easy to obtain a weapon and there were no legal consequences, disputes were often settled violently and with impunity. “I am afraid to argue with any person on the street,” he said. “There is no regime, no order.” He added, “It is the duty of the international forces to create security.” Lazim recently had begun seeing female victims for the first time. One was a teenager found by American soldiers with her throat slit. Two others set a ghoulish precedent—they had both been raped and then murdered.
    For those wounded in Baghdad’s gun battles, there was little hope of finding help. Yakub al-Jabari, a microbiologist at the National Blood Transfusion Center for Iraq, located in the complex of buildings known as Medical City, summarized the situation when asked if there was a shortage of blood. “There is a shortage of everything,” he said, “blood, equipment, staff.” He had not received his salary for three months. The labs looked like a dusty basement where a hospital might store its obsolete machines. The staff used food refrigerators to store blood, though frequent blackouts made Jabari’s efforts worthless, as everything became contaminated. “If you want to save people’s lives, bring us more of these machines—you will go to paradise,” he said, opening a dirty refrigerator and pointing inside. “We kill people here, we don’t save them.” He smiled bitterly. “Many people are dying because of our shortages. We lie when we give people hope, but we can’t be honest with them.” Iraqis in need of blood must bring their own, which meant bringing a friend or relative to donate. I heard shooting from outside the blood center as I hurriedly asked Jabari about HIV and other concerns the center faced without the ability to screen donors. He told me he knew of only two cases of HIV in the past decade. He believed Saddam had executed them.
    Baghdad’s hospitals had collapsed at a time when improved health care was needed more than ever. Hospital directors and doctors complained that they had received no assistance from the coalition forces, only promises. They relied on generators, because they got only a few hours of electricity a day. Sometimes they were forced to operate by candlelight. Most hospitals and clinics received contaminated water or none at all. Contamination resulted in outbreaks of typhoid, gastroenteritis, and diarrhea. They had no air-conditioning, medicine, oxygen, or anesthesia. And there was no one to clean the floors, so they remained stained with blood.
    Chaos reigned, as staff were overwhelmed. They had no computers and they recycled carbon paper. Ambulance crews had no gas or security escorts, and Americans stopped them at night for violating curfews when they transported patients. Security concerns led staff to leave work early in order to get home safely. When hospitals did receive supplies, staff worried about attracting looters. Hospitals had no cooling systems because of electricity shortages, so medicines and vaccines were routinely destroyed.
    A visit to a hospital coincided with a car screeching to a halt in front. A shrieking, black-clad woman was thrown onto a broken wheelchair; relatives had to hold it together as she was wheeled in, blood pouring from her womb. A midwife had botched her labor. A thick trail of blood led from the hospital driveway to the reception and down the hall to the emergency room.
    Iraqis grumbled about their invisible ruler, the proconsul Paul Bremer, who rejected representation for them, declaring Iraqis too immature to decide their own fate. The country had three dictators in three months: Saddam was replaced by the bucolic Gen. Jay Garner and then the urbane Bremer, while others, such as Gen. Tommy Franks and President George W. Bush, issued edicts that affected their lives, and Arnold Schwarzenegger visited but did not greet his Iraqi fans. Even the name of the government changed three times: the Baathist regime became the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which was replaced by the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority (OCPA). In his “freedom message to the Iraqi people,” Franks, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, announced that the Americans had “come as liberators, not occupiers,” adding that they aimed to “enforce UN resolutions requiring the destruction of weapons of mass destruction.” These weapons, of course, had not existed for years.
    The foreign troops became an onerous presence as the burden of Saddam was removed. Iraqis had to suffer numerous intrusive checkpoints, roadblocks, and lines for gasoline, and there were raids, killings, arrests, and property damage. They were awakened by the rumbling of tanks through streets. Unaware of the fact that many soldiers chewed tobacco, they asked me why Americans spit so much. Frustrated young soldiers pointed their machine guns at grand-mothers and teased Iraqi youths about how easily they could kill them.
    In the face of the American juggernaut, Iraqis were lost and confused. They were used to the way ministries got things done. Now they had to march through long paths carved out with barbed wire and stand in the sun with gun barrels facing them. They were searched, patted down, and questioned; their IDs were declared unsuitable; they were told they could not be helped, or sent elsewhere, their protests and supplications falling on deaf ears. Tempers were lost, and Americans screamed in English as Iraqis shouted in Arabic, neither understanding the other. American soldiers did not sympathize with the inconvenience. “We stand in the sun all day,” said one soldier, looking at hundreds of men standing or squatting, waiting.

Falluja 2004

    A year later I was in Falluja, a small town forty-three miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates, in the Anbar province. Before the American invasion Falluja was rarely thought of unless Iraqis were stopping to get kabobs on their way to a picnic at Lake Habbaniya, an artificial lake in the middle of the desert with bungalows and a 1960s-style resort built along its rocky banks. True, it had a reputation for being conservative, with tribal mores still important, and its claim to fame was having the highest per capita number of mosques, earning it the nickname City of Mosques. But Falluja was conservative, not radical; it had not been a center of religious extremism or loyalty to the former regime. But it became a case study of how American policy in Iraq promoted sectarianism and armed resistance.
    The city, once a Sufi bastion, suffered at the hands of the former regime because of the importance of religion there. Its Sufis began to depart in the 1990s, when Saddam stopped oppressing Salafis. Named after “al-Salaf al-Salih” (the virtuous predecessors), meaning the companions of the Prophet Muhammad and their followers, Salafis seek to purify Islam of innovations introduced over the centuries since Muhammad received his revelations, and they seek to return to a way of life similar to that of the early Muslim community, basing life only on the Koran and the Sunna, the deeds and words of the Prophet. Saddam began to encourage their revival, perhaps to counter a perceived Shiite threat. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion Falluja also suffered political purges, uprisings, and killings of tribal members who had served the previous regime. It was not a wealthy town, with little signs that it received preferential treatment. It was a trucking and smuggling hub, which would later prove useful to other clandestine networks.
    Although it is common to blame the American decision to dissolve the Iraqi army and security agencies in May 2003 for the emergence of the resistance, the truth is that resistance in Falluja and elsewhere in the Anbar province began before this order. No hostile shots were fired at the Americans from Falluja during the invasion, and the city saw little looting. Instead, after the war, local officials and dignitaries took control and tried to establish order. It took two weeks before the Americans even established themselves in Falluja. Key influential foreign fighters later told me that they had tried to organize an armed resistance in Falluja and failed in those early days, because Falluja’s people wanted to give the Americans a chance. But the American perception was that Sunni Arabs were loyal to Saddam and thus to be treated with hostility. The Americans took a more aggressive posture in Sunni areas than in Shiite ones.
    The Americans set up an imposing presence on the main street in the center of town, using a school as their base, and mounted aggressive patrols. Their presence in other civilian areas, and their practice of observing neighborhoods from rooftops, offended traditionally minded locals. The elites who had taken control of the town following the war were not recognized by the Americans. Little interest was shown in improving the local economy. A demonstration in April calling for the Americans to leave the school ended up with nearly twenty dead civilians, as the Americans met it with extreme force. There was no public American inquiry or attempt to reconcile with the locals. One foreign fighter I spoke to would later name this as a turning point. Similar demonstrations occurred in Shiite areas, but they were met with a different response from the Americans. In Diwaniya, a Shiite city that was also a bastion of the former army, anti-Bremer demonstrations following the disbanding of the army featured pictures of Saddam and Baathist slogans, but the Americans did not respond aggressively.
    More demonstrations and more killings followed in Falluja, and the Americans adopted the attitude that “Arabs only understand force.” Tanks on the streets, low-flying helicopters, frequent patrols—Fallujans felt like they were under a foreign occupation. Local leaders who sought to avoid violence would eventually change their minds. The American view that there was a monolithic group of Iraqis called Sunni Arabs had always been mistaken, just as it was a mistake to identify a Sunni Triangle. The Baath Party was incorrectly viewed as an exclusively Sunni party, and Saddam’s regime was incorrectly viewed as a Sunni regime, since not all Sunnis were loyal to it. Many Sunnis felt they were victims of Saddam, and even Sunni clerics had been executed by the former regime. Some tribes were given privileged status, while others were weakened or marginalized. That there were no obvious Sunni leaders after Saddam was removed was but one sign that his own community had been weakened by his regime. But Sunnis would soon consider themselves the targets of collective punishment. Treated as the enemy, many of them soon became just that, fearing that they were about to be exterminated. These fears would be manipulated by those interested in promoting violence.

    THOSE FEARS WERE the political effect of ideas and decisions that were fermenting thousands of miles away from Iraq. Much of what we have come to know about Iraq has come from self-styled “Iraq experts” or “terrorism experts”—celebrity pundits—who catered to the political demands of the occupation and the American administration. Most of these experts could not speak or read Arabic, had not been to Iraq, and had only a superficial experience of the Middle East. They hailed from Washington think tanks like the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic International Studies, and others. If they visited Iraq (or Afghanistan), they hopped from base to base, with the military as their baby-sitter and escort. They invoked terms that were barely in use before 2003, such as “Sunni Arab.” Geographical regions were simplistically layered onto Iraq’s ethnic groups, and simplistic labels like the “Kurdish north,” “Sunni Triangle,” and “Shiite south” were popularized. The importance of class identity—and the revolutionary potential of the poor, who supported Communists in the ’50s and the Sadrists in the ’90s and later—was ignored, as was the heritage of nonsectarian nationalism.
    The Iraqis the Americans installed after the invasion, however, came mostly from the former opposition parties, many of which were formed on a sectarian or ethnic basis. None had a broad base of support. The American approach to Iraq was sectarian, as Iraqis quickly complained. The Americans viewed Sunnis as the bad guys and Shiites as the victims, and the U.S. media followed suit. The Iraqi Governing Council, a symbolic body created in July 2003 as a concession to Iraqi demands for representation, was established on purely sectarian grounds, as Iraqis were quick to note. Members were chosen for being Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, or Turkmen, rather than for representing Iraqis. Even the Communist Party member was chosen for being a Shiite rather than for being secular or leftist. Barbara Bodine, a veteran Arabist from the State Department and former ambassador to Yemen, was briefly put in charge of Baghdad and then fired when the CPA needed a scapegoat to blame for the descent into chaos. “One of the first mistakes we made was to put Iraq into three neat little packages, homogeneous, monolithic,” she told me.
    The occupation empowered Shiites and Kurds, specifically the most sectarian and ethnocentric leaders, and punished the Sunni population. It also empowered parties with little grassroots support (with the exception of the Kurdish parties), which meant that their members had to appeal to sectarianism. Sunnis and some Shiites were driven to resist the occupation. At first the resistance was a nationalist one. Foreign Arabs had flocked to Iraq during the war to defend their brethren. Some were radical Sunnis who sought a jihad. Their numbers grew as volunteers flocked to kill Americans and Shiites, often at the behest of Sunni clerics and theologians throughout the Arab world. The most radical among them sought to destroy the American project in Iraq by provoking sectarian warfare, setting off suicide bombs at key religious sites. Although the Iraqi government under Saddam had not been a Sunni regime, as many outside observers have claimed, the new sectarian Sunni parties in Iraq have come to view that era as a “Sunni golden age.”
    Arabs are often criticized for their “conspiracy theories,” and it was common in Iraq to view the Americans as new colonists intent on dividing and conquering Iraq. But the approach implemented by Paul Bremer attempted to do just that. In Bremer’s mind the way to occupy Iraq was not to view it as a nation but as a group of minorities, so he pitted the minority that was not benefiting from the system against the minority that was, and expected them to be grateful to him. Bremer ruled Iraq as if it were already undergoing a civil war, helping the Shiites by punishing the Sunnis. He was not managing a country, in his view; he was managing a civil war. As a result, he helped to create one.
    The Bush administration believed that Shiites could lead the Arab world to an Islamic reformation that would increase secularism. Bremer claimed that Saddam had “modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler’s,” and he compared the Baath Party with the Nazi Party. This was sheer fabrication: there is no proof or mention of this in any of the copious literature about Iraq. (If anything, Saddam’s inspiration was the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin or Michael Corleone from The Godfather.) The Iraqi Baath Party was established by a Shiite, and the majority of its members were Shiites. So Bremer created this Nazi analogy and imagined himself de-Nazifying Iraq, saving the Shiites from the evil Sunnis. (Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also often compared Baathists to Nazis.) Indeed, one of the reasons Bremer performed so horribly in Iraq is that he viewed the country through this distorting lens.
    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was unwilling to commit resources to the stabilization of Iraq. When Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s de facto chief of staff, arrived in Kuwait to serve as the political commissar over ORHA, he met with the humanitarian assistance team led by Chris McMullen. McMullen began the briefing by saying, “What we intend to bring to the Iraqi people,” but he never got to finish his sentence. Di Rita slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “We are bringing freedom to the Iraqi people! We don’t owe them anything more!” Later Di Rita explained that the U.S. military would not be in Iraq for long. Rumsfeld considered Bosnia and Kosovo to be failures, and he considered Afghanistan a potential failure because U.S. troops were still there. The doctrine of the day was “shock and awe” and a hasty U.S. withdrawal.
    President Bush had approved of a plan to take over the Iraqi army, but Bremer and Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and Walter Slocombe reversed the decision, casually agreeing to fire more than three hundred thousand armed men without a second thought. ORHA officials had not planned on maintaining the Iraqi army indefinitely. Instead they had hoped to put the army to work until they could get it through a demobilization process. The men of the Iraqi army thought that they would be part of the solution. Iraqi generals did not acknowledge defeat, and the Iraqi army did not feel defeated. The CPA’s refusal to maintain state industries led to the loss of a further 350,000 jobs. In August 2003 the Americans removed agricultural subsidies, forcing many farmers off their land.
    Bremer later claimed that Iraqis hated their army, which was, in fact, the most nationalistic institution in the country and one that predated the Baath Party. In electing not to fight the Americans, the army had expected to be recognized by the occupation; indeed, until Bremer arrived it appeared that many Iraqi soldiers and officers were hoping to cooperate with the Americans. Bremer, however, treated Iraqis as if they harbored ancient grievances, claiming in an article after he retired that “Shiite conscripts were regularly brutalized and abused by their Sunni officers.” This was not true: although Sunnis were overrepresented in the officer corps and Shiites sometimes felt there was a glass ceiling, there were Shiite ministers and generals, and at least one-third of the famous deck of cards of those Iraqis most wanted by the Americans were Shiites. Complex historical factors account for why Sunnis were overrepresented in majority-Shiite areas. Many attribute this to the legacy of the Ottomans and the British colonizers, while others theorize that minorities took power in several postcolonial Arab countries—Alawites in Syria, Maronites in Lebanon, and Sunnis in Iraq. Although there is debate about these matters, nobody has ever argued on behalf of Bremer’s ludicrous view of a Nazi-like regime where Sunnis were the Germans and Shiites were the Jews. There were many Shiite officers in the army. The elite Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard were dominated by Sunni tribes from Anbar and Salahaddin, as were sensitive security services, but there is a false notion that Shiites had no access to power. It implies that there was an open political field for Sunnis from which Shiites were excluded.
    Iraq had a legacy of statism. The state controlled the country’s oil wealth as well as production in industries such as agriculture. The government also employed the majority of the Iraqi workforce. Strict regulation governed the economy, controlling the movement of capital. The American occupiers found an Iraq where the state had played a tremendous role in the lives of citizens, and they assumed this was a timeless character of the culture that they would have to repair, but in fact it dated to the sanctions imposed from 1990 to 2003. The sanctions led to a huge increase in the role of the Iraqi government in the daily lives of the population.
    Denis Halliday, the UN assistant secretary general and the humanitarian coordinator of the oil-for-food program in Iraq, resigned in 1998 in protest at the economic sanctions on Iraq. The oil-for-food program was meant to alleviate the impact of the sanctions, but Iraq could not pump enough oil to get enough money to cover its food and medicine needs, and the drop in oil prices at the time made it even worse. Halliday admitted that Iraqi children were dying directly because of the sanctions. The UN itself estimated that about half a million children under five died because of the sanctions.
    Iraqis had few political or civil rights under Saddam, but they had economic rights and a decent standard of living. The sanctions took even those. Halliday’s successor resigned in 2000 protesting the “tightening of the rope around the neck of the average Iraqi citizen. . . . I felt that I was being misused for a United Nations policy that was punitive, that tried to punish a people for not having gotten rid of their leader.”
    To prevent the Iraqi people from starving, the Public Distribution System was established to deliver rations to the population via more than fifty thousand local agents. Rations included soap and basic food needs. For the first time, the people now depended on the government to eat, giving Saddam more control over them than ever before, and making dissent more difficult and dangerous than ever. The middle class, which might have formed the base of that dissent, was wiped out as savings were made worthless. Many Iraqis were driven from towns back to a rural and agricultural life, and the power of feudal landlords increased.
    A stated goal of the American occupation was to transform Iraq into a free-market economy. One of the first measures taken by the American occupation was to impose laws that liberalized capital accounts, currency trading, and investment regulations, and lifted price regulations and most state subsidies. An important principle guiding the occupation was not to invest in any state institution that could be privatized in the future, in anticipation of the liquidation of state assets.
    Extreme measures such as these radically changed the lives of Iraqis as they struggled with higher inflation and reduced state subsidies while imported consumption goods flooded the market at lower prices. Consumer spending increased drastically. This was coupled with the growth of new private institutions that sought to replace the role formerly played by the state. National industry and the export sector were severely undermined. The entire structure of the Iraqi state has been shattered and the central state in Iraq has been vitiated, as shown by the clauses in the Constitution that address control over oil. Although similar attempts at “shock therapy” techniques applied to countries in the 1980s and ’90s showed poor results, often only damaging countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America, these same techniques were imposed on Iraq in extreme form. The measures taken in Iraq were neither democratic nor successful, but their ramifications will be felt for years.
    America’s relationship with Iraq did not begin in 2003. The U.S. encouraged and helped Iraq go to war against Iran in 1980. It was a war that devastated both countries. The U.S. and its Gulf allies also helped support Iraq’s massive army, which encouraged the adventure in Kuwait and which later, after the Americans disbanded this vast army, led to such a large group of unemployed armed young men in 2003. The American project in Iraq resembled and was sometimes even consciously modeled after other colonial endeavors in the region. The act of occupying a country, dismantling and rebuilding its institutions, economic structures, and even its political identity, is not a new feature in the modern history of the Middle East. But occupied Iraq has rarely been studied as a colonial case. There has been a clear effort to avoid labeling the American project a colonial one. This has led to analysis of Iraq through an ahistorical framework.
    Outside observers, including American politicians, have a tendency to assume that the current political divisions, violence, and prejudices in Iraq have “always been there,” and the new conflict between Sunnis and Shiites has been conceptualized as “timeless.” But Iraqis were merely adapting to the American view of Iraq as a collection of sects and trying to fit into the political system the Americans were building around that idea. These observers disregard the fact that the American presence actively created many of these problems and “read history backward” in an attempt to minimize the American role in Iraq. But Iraq is not Rwanda, where Americans could watch Tutsis and Hutus slaughter each other and claim it was not their problem. The civil war in Iraq began with the American occupation.
    The occupation was based on a vision that saw Iraqis as a collection of atomic sects. Even before the invasion, theorizers of the “new Iraq” such as Kanan Makiya sought to de-Arabize the country. They blamed Arabism for the ills of totalitarian Iraq and proposed ideas such as “regional autonomies” and federalism as alternatives to a centralized, top-down, state-sponsored identity. Prescient critics such as Azmi Bishara warned that if Iraqis ceased to be “Arab,” then they would simply adopt more primordial forms of identity that would not necessarily be less violent or damaging.
    After the war Iraq was treated as a tabula rasa experiment, and the political institutions built by the occupation reflected these views. They were devised to undermine the idea of Iraqi nationalism that Saddam had tried to promote, and to correspond to the vision of Iraq as a trinational state. This further politicized sectarian forms of identity, making them the only avenue of political action in Iraq. Several incompatible views of Iraqi identity were promoted by the occupation and postwar Iraqi politicians: Iraq as a tribal society; Iraq as a liberal, multicultural polity, where a concept of Iraqi citizenship trumps other loyalties (promoted by Ahmad Chalabi, Kanan Makiya, Mithal al-Alousi, and other “liberal” politicians); Iraq as a collection of nations or sects. The last definition was the most potent. Electoral laws and sectarian violence played the largest role in cementing this vision. In addition, the Americans divided Iraq into winners and losers, and they soon made it clear to the Sunnis where they fell into that divide.
    In late 2003 an American NGO arranged a meeting in the Green Zone between several representatives of Falluja’s major tribes (such as the Albu Eisa, Jumaila, Albu Alwan, and others) and representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority. “We had a lot of hopes of big and meaningful projects that could show a more attractive future for the people,” said one of the organizers. “We were talking with the sheikhs about good projects for the city, and they were really interested in the business centers and the links with the foreign companies. They told us the ‘troubled kids’ were few and they could arrange with the bigger tribal leaders to control the situation as long as they can have something to show their people. Their other concern was about the Shiite domination. They said they would really appreciate it if the Americans promised to protect the city from the Badr Brigade [the huge Iranian-trained Shiite militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI]. They were really concerned about this point. The CPA attended the meeting, but they seemed so uninterested. I can say that their general feeling was, ‘You lost, and we don’t care about you.’ To everyone’s disappointment, the main representative of the CPA left fifteen minutes into the meeting. The sheikhs left to Falluja knowing they would have nothing to offer there. One of them was kidnapped and killed a couple of months after the meeting, and the other was attacked and his son was killed. One of them got connected to the armed groups and went on his own.”
    In the spring and summer of 2004, I met many fighters and leaders of the resistance in Falluja. They believed they were defending their city, the country, and their religion. They clashed frequently with their rivals, the Al Qaeda-inspired jihadists and foreign fighters who had based themselves in the Anbar province and threatened to undermine the power of the more conservative Fallujan leadership. Many Sunnis had no alternatives even as the Al Qaeda men undermined the Anbar establishment and imposed a reign of terror, which not only bloodied communities but destroyed infrastructure, institutions, and businesses there. Their traditional leadership was more pragmatic and wasn’t ideologically opposed to an accommodation with the Americans at that time, though they had yet to be chastened by Shiite militias into reducing their expectations.

    A FOREIGN MILITARY OCCUPATION is a systematic imposition of violence on an entire population. Of the many crimes committed against the Iraqi people, most have occurred unnoticed by the American people or the media. Americans, led to believe their soldiers and marines would be welcomed as liberators, still have little idea what the occupation is really like from the perspective of Iraqis. Although I am American, born and raised in New York City, I came closer to experiencing what it feels like to be Iraqi than many of my colleagues. I often say that the secret to my success as a journalist in Iraq is my melanin advantage. I inherited my Iranian father’s Middle Eastern features, which allowed me to go unnoticed in Iraq, march in demonstrations, sit in mosques, walk through Falluja’s worst neighborhoods, sit in taxis and restaurants, and look like every other Iraqi. My ability to blend in also allowed me to relate to the American occupier in a different way, for he looked at me as if I were another “hajji,” the “gook” of the war in Iraq.
    I first realized my advantage in April 2003, when I was sitting with a group of American soldiers and another soldier walked up and wondered what this hajji (me) had done to get arrested. Later that summer I walked in the direction of an American tank and heard one soldier say about me, “That’s the biggest fuckin’ Iraqi [pronounced “eye-raki”] I ever saw.” Another soldier, who was by the gun, replied, “I don’t care how big he is, if he doesn’t stop movin’ I’m gonna shoot him.”
    I was lucky enough to have an American passport in my pocket, which I promptly took out and waved, shouting, “Don’t shoot! I’m an American!” It was my first encounter with hostile checkpoints but hardly my last, and I grew to fear the unpredictable American military, which could kill me for looking like an Iraqi male of fighting age. Countless other Iraqis were not lucky enough to speak English or carry an American passport, and entire families were killed in their cars when they approached checkpoints. In 2004 the British medical journal The Lancet estimated that by September of that year, one hundred thousand Iraqis had died as a result of the American occupation; most of them had died violently, largely from American airstrikes. Although this figure was challenged by many, especially partisan backers of the war, it seemed perfectly plausible to me based on what I had seen during the postwar period in Iraq. What I never understood was why more journalists did not focus on this, choosing instead to look for the “good news” and to go along with the official story. I never understood why more journalists did not write about the daily Abu Ghraibs that were so essential to the occupation.
    The occupation pitted Iraqis against one another as old scores were settled and battles for resources and Iraq’s identity raged. Sectarian differences that had previously been suppressed are now exaggerated. This book, which begins by looking at the events and trends that led to the outbreak of civil war in Iraq, tells the story of what happened to Iraq as it descended into the nightmare of sectarianism and militia fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion. And it tells the story of what happened after “the Events,” or “the Sectarianism,” as Iraqis called their civil war, much as the conflict in Northern Ireland is called “the Troubles.” It is a story of Iraq after dark, so to speak, away from the glare of the Western media and far from U.S. patrols and, most important, away from the elite politics of the Green Zone. I focus on the Iraqi “street,” because after the overthrow of Saddam, power was distributed there.
    I first came to Iraq when I was twenty-five years old, a former nightclub bouncer with a skill in languages who hoped to remake himself as a journalist. I have been traveling and living in Iraq ever since, and the longer I have stayed the more interested I have become in what Martha Gellhorn described as the “view from the ground,” a narrative of Iraq that transcends the clichés of much journalism about the region. As a new Iraq emerges, I hope this book will serve as a reminder of the terrible suffering millions of civilians have endured. This book also attempts to understand how the civil war in Iraq ended and what role Americans played in that. More specifically, it is an attempt to understand the role of the “surge,” the term for the increase in American troops that has become a blanket term for a change in the American strategy and military operations in Iraq (and later in Afghanistan). That the Americans began to have more influence on the Iraqi street during the “surge” is reflected in the chapters that cover this period, where they play a larger role in my narrative, and I show that the power dynamic between the Americans and the street was never as simple as one between an occupier and a puppet. For the surge also marked the period coinciding with the cease-fire of the main Shiite militia and the simultaneous cease-fire of most Sunni militias, who changed sides and allied themselves with the Americans. I was a surge skeptic, expecting the worst. I feared that the civil war in Iraq might become a regional war, and I did not immediately see the importance of the new American approach or foresee the role the serendipitous change in Iraqi dynamics would play. The civil war burned itself out faster than I expected, and the Americans went from being an oppressive occupying force, to a neglectful occupier allowing Iraqis to slaughter one another, to a power broker and quasi peacekeeper, and finally, perhaps, to an uneasy strategic ally and partner.
    This book is not limited to Iraq, however. This is a book about what the Americans have wrought regionally, how the invasion and its aftereffects have spilled over into neighboring countries. It shows how Iraq underwent a process of Lebanonization and how the Middle East, in many ways, was Iraqified. I attempt to chart where Iraqi refugees fled to and how they lived. I also look at the effect of this Iraqi exodus: the radicalization and destabilization of Iraq’s neighbors, the exodus of ideas, weapons, and tactics from Iraq. In particular I focus on Lebanon and the extent to which it was Iraqified, with an Al Qaeda-inspired group leaving Iraq and establishing itself there at the same time as tensions between Lebanon’s Sunnis and Shiites led to clashes in its streets. The regional tensions between Sunnis and Shiites stoked by the Bush administration remain a legacy that can lead to future violence. The book ends in Afghanistan, a “virtual” neighbor of Iraq’s, where President Barack Obama, who inherited a more broken and unstable Middle East, initiated his own surge and where the American military tried to apply the lessons it thought it had learned in Iraq. COIN—the acronym for the counterinsurgency warfare in vogue after the “surge” in Iraq—is talked about as a war of the future, and its use and efficacy in Iraq and Afghanistan will determine the way America fights those future wars. As I write there is talk in Washington about whether American troops should be used to “solve” Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia. Regardless of where, there is a certainty that they will be used again. This book, then, as well as being a personal journey through the violence that has cascaded through the region over the last decade, is a reminder of the human cost of America’s wars to remake the Muslim world.

Road to Civil War

    ALTHOUGH MANY SEE THE FEBRUARY 2006 SAMARRA SHRINE BOMBINGS by Al Qaeda in Iraq as the incident that ignited the civil war, ethnic and sectarian militias had been battling each other long before that. Since the invasion the lives of many Iraqis had become restricted to their small neighborhoods, with travel too treacherous to attempt. These neighborhoods became “purified” of minorities; mini-cities made up of a single sect or ethnic group were set up. Those conditions shaped the political consciousness of Iraqis; they became increasingly isolated, with no public spaces for debate or interaction. Even the new media in Iraq was segmented, with each institution targeting specific sections of Iraqi society. As a result, Iraqis stopped watching the same news, following the same issues, or even watching the same TV shows.
    New parties emerged in postinvasion Iraq, and old ones resurfaced. Others formed new electoral coalitions. Most of this activity revolved around identity politics. Very few Iraqis voted for nonsectarian parties in any of the postwar elections, and most political groupings saw their main function as the “representation” of sectarian and ethnic groups rather than the proposition of ideas and projects for the future of the state. Identity was politicized and confessionalized, much as it is in Lebanese politics, in a manner unseen since the creation of Iraq.
    The debates since the invasion pertained to the design of power-sharing formulas that represented the different communities. To newcomers this may have seemed like the true nature of Iraqi society, which many presented as three self-contained “nations.” But this simplified the concept of Iraqi identity and reduced it to a sectarian one. In the American view, the only way through which Shiites observed their surroundings was through their sectarian identity, and they participated in Iraqi politics only through their Shiism.
    Sectarianism has always existed in Iraq, just as racism exists in every society. But pre-American invasion sectarianism was very complex. Since the capture of Mesopotamia (then compromising the provinces of Baghdad and Basra) by the Ottoman Turks in 1638, minority Sunnis had been Iraq’s ruling group. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate authority further empowered Sunnis in Iraq while Shiites remained mostly rural and confined to the laboring classes. By the 1950s many Shiites had migrated to urban areas; some filling the vacuum created by the departure of Baghdad’s Jewish commercial class, others working in the government. Sunnis and Shiites intermarried, and typically the father’s sect would become the dominant one in the family.
    Sectarianism existed before the war; it was just muted and not very important politically. But it could always be used as an alternative interpretation of events as well. Abdul Karim Qasim, who led Iraq after the monarchy was overthrown in 1958, increased the numbers of Shiites in the officer corps. Some Shiites believe he was overthrown by Sunni officers in 1963 because of that, since afterward Shiite attendance in the military academy declined. The regime that followed also expropriated some Shiite businesses. But politics in 1950s and ’60s Iraq was broadly aligned around ideological, not sectarian, fault lines, inspired by Nasser’s secular Arab socialist state in Egypt. The 1968 coup that brought the Baath Party to power, dubbed the “White Revolution,” got most of its legitimacy from its promise of stability and an end to the retributions and political violence that had scarred Iraqi society. Saddam, who participated in the coup and rose to the top of the military and government throughout the ’70s, officially took power in 1979. For a long time his approach to ruling was not sectarian. Although most neighborhoods in Baghdad had a clear sectarian majority, Saddam tried to prevent the emergence of “pure” areas in the city. The government regulated access to the city, and moving into Baghdad required the government’s permission. In the early 1980s, when plans were made to modernize the city, the government planned many neighborhoods to accommodate specific professions (military officers, teachers, professors, engineers, etc.) in order to assure that they were mixed. Most of these areas have now been rendered homogenous because of the violence and mass expulsions. The same applies to the government’s plans for social engineering (moving Arabs into the north and Kurds into the south). Internal displacement is a grave obstacle to peace in Iraq today.
    During the ’70s the Baath Party, though not without sectarian bias, was focused on using its oil wealth for modernizing Iraq and building the Iraqi state. As Saddam accumulated more power it was often at the expense of rival Sunnis. Initially loyalty and competence were sufficient to advance in his regime. Saddam weakened ideological parties like the Communists but backed religious and tribal leaders who supported his regime.
    But the Iran-Iraq War increased regional sectarianism. Arab states like Saudi Arabia expected Iraq to be a Sunni bulwark against Shiite Iran. The war created the first real fissures between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. Some Shiite Baathists in the intelligence and security establishment and presidential palace began to feel marginalized and mistrusted, even targeted. Some who defected complained about this to Dawa Party officials in London, but the officials weren’t sure if the complaints were valid or just an attempt to penetrate the party. “If the Iran-Iraq War had only lasted one or two years, it wouldn’t have had an impact,” a Dawa insider and longtime official told me. “But it lasted eight years.” And the war was followed by the 1991 intifada, which was not Shiite at first—it grabbed anything around it to give it an identity, and Imam Hussein’s “revolution” against oppression resonated in the south. Saddam crushed the intifada, treating it as if it were a Shiite uprising. His brutal suppression was led by a Shiite, Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaidi, but Shiites would feel that a Sunni regime had punished them, and they would harbor these grievances following Saddam’s overthrow.
    Some Shiite activists in exile circles belonging to Dawa and the Supreme Council began talking about the historical unfairness Iraqi Shiites faced. Abdel Karim al-Uzri was a secular Shiite and the godfather of this idea. He argued that Shiites had been treated unfairly ever since the state of Iraq was established. Uzri and a few others outside the mainstream of Dawa and the Supreme Council began talking about the political bias against Shiites. Dawa and Supreme Council rhetoric was about Islamic revolution, though. People like Sami al-Askari and Muafaq al-Rubaei, who would rise to power in postwar Iraq, were staunchly against talking about Shiite rights. “I was accused of being a foreign agent to undermine them,” said the Dawa insider. “It was about Islamists against evil powers of everybody else. It was about Islamic revolution, not Sunnis versus Shiites. At one point the Supreme Council even had Sunnis in its leadership.” But even this insider admitted Saddam was not sectarian. “Saddam played one community against another. He executed many Salafis and influential Sunnis. Saddam wasn’t a Sunni. He didn’t care about Sunnis and Shiites. After the 1991 failed uprising, there was a strategic shift in the Supreme Council. It wasn’t about Samarra; it was a strategic plan to destroy Sunni power.” After the Gulf War the Iraqi state became much more narrowly based. Shiites were removed from jobs, or kept out of jobs, while power became more and more concentrated in the hands of Sunnis from certain tribes. The regime responded to the threat from the uprising by closing ranks on a tribal and clan basis, mostly people from Tikrit and Mosul. To many Shiites, it felt like the state religion was Sunni Islam, and the public practice of Shiism was prohibited. At Saddam University, one of Baghdad’s biggest schools, the senior party official who had taught Baathist ideology just before the war told his students that if he found them visiting Shiite shrines, he would beat them. Naturally, he also condemned the Dawa Party—the party of the largely exiled Shiite intelligentsia—and described it as murderous.
    State schools had mandatory religion classes, but only Sunni Islam was taught and the teachers were usually Sunni, at least in Baghdad. The religious endowment, or waqf, was an ostensibly ecumenical ministry, but many Shiites perceived it as being Sunni. They worried that collection money donated to Shiite shrines was used to build Sunni mosques. Shiite calls to prayer from mosques were often not allowed. When mosques challenged the government and broadcasted the Shiite call, they were punished. Many Shiite religious books were banned, perhaps because some of them condemned figures revered by Sunnis, so Shiites would exchange these books secretly. Sometimes Shiites found with them would be accused of belonging to the Dawa Party and executed. Between Iraqis, the level of social sectarianism often depended on whether or not they were devout practitioners of their faith.
    Saddam’s faith campaign of 1993 was meant to bolster his legitimacy. It meant that Baath Party members had to attend classes on Islam. This would influence not only them but their sons as well, who ten years later would take part in the resistance. The generation raised in the 1990s also had much more Islamic education in school. The regime even introduced an Islamic-based mutilation as punishment for military desertion.
    Many upscale whites living on Park Avenue in New York view blacks and Hispanics with disdain. Many minorities resent whites. Even in New York City one can hear blacks referred to as “niggers” and Chinese as “chinks.” But this racism does not normally translate into violence. It takes more than just resentment or even hatred. It takes fear as well as mobilization and manipulation by politicians and the media. This happened in the Balkans and Rwanda, and this happened in Iraq as well. For sure, the potential was there to be manipulated. In 2003 Shiites referred to other Shiites as “min jamaatna,” or “from our group,” to let somebody know that a stranger could be trusted. But the American occupation divided Iraqis against one another, pitting the winners against the losers, and persistent Al Qaeda-style attacks against Shiites combined with this manipulation to unleash an awful tempest. The occupation empowered sectarian, ethnic, and tribal parties that had no rivals thanks to Saddam’s legacy.
    The Americans, much like the exile Shiite and Kurdish parties, identified the former regime and its security forces with Sunni Arabs. Most Iraqis viewed the army as the national army, not Saddam’s army or the Baath Party’s army, even if they viewed the Republican Guard as having a more sectarian hue. But despite the national embrace of the army, it was Sunnis who suffered the most and felt most vulnerable following its dissolution. Nearly four hundred thousand men lost their jobs following Bremer’s decision to disband the army and security forces. Shiites and Sunnis alike protested. The resistance would later benefit both from the chaos resulting from the dissolution of the security forces and from the pool of unemployed and embittered men it created. As Sunnis saw exile sectarian and ethnic parties taking over, their sense of disenfranchisement only increased—especially when the new government and its security forces became dominated by those same Shiite and Kurdish parties.
    Bremer’s de-Baathification order led to the sweeping dismissal of Iraq’s entire managerial class. De-Baathification was not a neutral judicial process; it was politicized from the beginning. Former American ally Ahmad Chalabi used the process to target opponents. Shiite ex-Baathists were rehabilitated, but Sunnis often were not. In effect, the state was de-Sunnified. The American-selected Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was dominated by sectarian and ethnic exile parties that had little support within Iraq, and its Sunni members were especially weak. The Sadrists, who had real indigenous support and had not been in exile, were excluded, while Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, perceived to be Iranian tools, were empowered. Crucially, this was the first time sect and ethnicity had been used as the official principles underlying politics and institutional formation. Although the IGC was weak and had little support, it wrote the interim Constitution. In June 2004 the IGC was replaced by the interim government, led by secular Shiite and former Baathist Ayad Allawi. The exile sectarian and ethnic parties remained dominant. Many Shiites reported that violence against them started with the formation of the “Shiite”-controlled government.
    As the resistance adopted a more Sunni identity, the Americans, who already viewed Sunni Arabs as pro-Saddam and pro-Baathist, had their preconceived notions reinforced. The U.S. military’s brutal attempts to suppress the resistance also reinforced the Sunni sense of persecution, and there were no prominent Sunni leaders who could act as intermediaries between the resistance and the Americans.
    The January 2005 elections were based on proportional representation, with all of Iraq as one electoral district. This weakened local parties with grassroots support but strengthened countrywide ethnic and sectarian blocs. Sunnis boycotted, strengthening the hands of Shiite and Kurdish parties. Sunnis were then locked out of the constitutional drafting committee. They feared that the federalism in the new constitution would deny them access to the country’s resources and wealth. In October of that year Kurds and Shiites voted for the Constitution in a referendum, while Sunnis overwhelmingly voted against it.
    While it was once taboo to ask about somebody’s sect, it now became an essential part of daily interactions, with people asking indirect questions about where somebody was from, what neighborhood, what tribe, until they could figure it out. Many Sunnis, of course, also had a condescending and suspicious view of Shiites, encouraged by Saddam’s policies in the 1990s. To them, and to many Sunnis in the region, the new Shiite-dominated order was a shocking historic reversal. Iraqi Sunnis feared revenge, especially as they saw that Shiite-dominated security forces were indeed targeting them en masse. By 2005 mass-casualty attacks on Shiite civilians were widespread. Shiites were restrained in response to these attacks, thanks in large measure to their leadership. Following the January 2005 elections, things began to change. The Supreme Council took over the Interior Ministry, and its men from the Badr militia filled senior positions. That year Sunnis began to be killed during curfew hours, when civilians could not drive. The killers reportedly had official vehicles. Missing Sunnis would be found executed with signs of torture.
    Sunni Arabs were the primary victims of the sectarian cleansing in part because they were the weaker party, subject to attacks by the Americans, the new Shiite-dominated security forces, and the Shiite militias. But Sunnis also were more likely to live in Shiite areas than Shiites were to live in Sunni areas. While there were few Shiites in the Anbar province or in the north, there were significant Sunni minorities in the south. Many have been expelled from their homes.
    The Iraqi elections of January 2005 enshrined the new, sectarian Iraq. The Shiite government unleashed its vengeful militias on Sunnis, replicating Saddam’s mass graves, secret prisons, torture, and executions. Neighborhoods were cleansed of their minorities, and a once-diverse fabric frayed and came apart. Baghdad was slowly emptied of its Sunnis. Iraq fell apart. The violence was systematic and horrific. Rapes, beheadings, and extreme torture were used as strategic weapons. Kidnappings reached levels exceeding those of Colombia, Mexico, or Pakistan. Millions of Iraqis were internally displaced. Millions more became refugees in neighboring countries. Iraq’s middle class, business class, intellectuals, doctors—all left the country. It was one of the fastest destructions of a country and its polity in history.

The Rise of the Mosque

    With the removal of Saddam’s regime, mosques and clerics acquired an inordinate power in Iraq. Though only one of many complex factors influencing life in the Muslim world, the mosque traditionally had an important role in the community, one that encompassed the religious, social, and political. The call to prayer echoed through neighborhoods five times a day, serving to regulate time and the cycle of life. The mosque was a place for men to pray, learn, talk, bond, and mobilize for collective action. The Friday khutba (sermon) was often a call to action, in which the imam—the head of the mosque, who led prayer—would lecture his flock about issues that mattered to the community, from religion to international affairs. Particularly in authoritarian states, the minbar (pulpit) is a rare source of alternative authority. Likewise, in authoritarian states that restrict freedom of expression, the khutba is an important alternative source of information and views. In post-Saddam Iraq the mosque became the most important institution in the state. It served to unite communities, functioning as a provider of welfare and a weapons depot, a source of news and a rallying point. Certain mosques became key locations in neighborhoods or even rallying points for movements and sects; they became the perfect vantage from which to watch how sectarianism became a dominant and destabilizing force in Iraq.
    I first visited Baghdad’s Adhamiya district on Friday, April 18, 2003, for the triumphal return of Dr. Ahmad Kubeisi, Iraq’s most famous living Sunni theologian and a television preacher who had been based in the United Arab Emirates. A staunch Sunni bastion in majority-Shiite eastern Baghdad, Adhamiya was named for its mosque of Al Imam al-Adham, “The Greatest Imam,” as the 1,300-year-old mosque and tomb of Abu Hanifa al-Nu’man was called. Abu Hanifa was a ninth-century theologian whose legal judgments are still followed by about half the world’s Muslims. The Abu Hanifa Mosque is Iraq’s most important Sunni shrine, visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year. It had been a favorite mosque of the former Iraqi government; before the war Iraqi state television often broadcast Friday prayers from there. In the past, the imam, Sheikh Abdul Ghafar al-Kubaisi, had held up a Kalashnikov during his sermons, exhorting his listeners to protect Saddam and his regime. He was now in hiding.
    Adhamiya sits on the east bank of the Tigris River, right across from the important Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiya. Many of Iraq’s Shiites believe that Abu Hanifa was a treacherous student of Imam Kadhim, a key religious leader venerated by Shiites who participated in Kadhim’s killing, and some had a tradition of spitting in the direction of the shrine when they passed by it. Others told a story that Abu Hanifa had committed suicide by throwing himself in a barrel of acid. In fact, my friend Sayyid Hassan Naji al-Musawi, a close ally of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad and a commander in Sadr’s Mahdi Army, once confided to me that Abu Hanifa was an “ibn zina” (son of adultery), and that a “dog is buried there.” Salafis, whose numbers in Adhamiya had grown in the 1990s, also despised the mosque, which was revered by Sufis, because of the Salafi rejection of all shrines and tombs. After the war, posters of Saddam could still be bought in Adhamiya, and some Shiites called it “Saddamiya.” Shiite mosques in the district were frequent targets of Sunni attacks.
    Adhamiya was both very old and very rich, and the former regime found many supporters there. Up-and-coming Baathists would often purchase a house in the district once they could afford it. In March 2003, just before the war started, Gen. Mustafa al-Azzawi—who would command the Iraqi forces that fought the invading U.S. Army in Nasiriya, in southeast Iraq—began building a home in Adhamiya. Saddam himself hid there during the Gulf War of 1991. Afterward he appeared on Iraqi television to thank the people of Adhamiya for helping him, and declared it Baghdad’s original neighborhood.
    On Wednesday, April 8, 2003, Saddam was spotted and filmed at a rally outside the Abu Hanifa Mosque. He wore his military uniform and was flanked by a man resembling his son Qusay. The cheering crowds lifted Saddam up onto a car hood, from where he waved. A voice in the film that was made of the event said, “Conquered people eventually triumph over invaders. Your leadership is not weakened.” On April 10 a fierce gun battle occurred in Adhamiya between members of the First Marine Expeditionary Force and what U.S. Central Command called “an Iraqi leadership group trying to get together for a meeting” in the house of a top Baath official. One vehicle was hit by three rocket-propelled grenades and at least one marine was killed in the seven-hour battle.
    Adhamiya was the last part of Baghdad to fall. The defenders were mostly foreign fighters who regrouped from the rest of the country and tenaciously held out. Twenty-two prisoners were taken from the mosque, including its sheikh, Watheq al-Obeidi, and his two sons. Some of the prisoners were not Iraqi. Inside, a cemetery for “the martyrs of April 10” would be built. Before the gravestones were ready, the names of at least twenty dead foreign fighters—including Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Yemenis—were written on paper and put into soda bottles stuck into the ground. Foreign fighters who had survived were hidden in mosques or homes by sympathetic locals; some were even driven to the Syrian or Iranian border. The mosque itself was damaged, its walls pockmarked with deep holes and its minaret nearly cracked in two, with a gaping hole left by a missile launched from an American plane several hours after the April 10 battle. A nearby telephone exchange was destroyed by American bombings, and the buildings across from the mosque were blackened from the attacks. A dozen burned-out cars, including Sheikh Watheq’s blue Volkswagen Beetle, blocked traffic. To prevent looting after the battle, Adhamiya’s residents formed a committee of armed volunteers. Life began to return to normal, with the tea houses across from the mosque open and the neighborhood’s men gathering once more to chat and play dominoes.
    A week after the gun battle, as looting was still occurring across Baghdad and the Ministry of Information was emptied and set aflame, loudspeakers atop the U.S. Army’s Humvees warned in Arabic that if the looters did not immediately leave, “there will be consequences.” Meanwhile, the recently returned Dr. Kubeisi warned the Americans in his sermon of the consequences they would face if they did not leave immediately. For Kubeisi’s triumphal return the mosque was covered in banners proclaiming “One Iraq, One People,” “No to America,” “We Reject Foreign Control,” “Sunnis Are Shiites and Shiites Are Sunnis; We Are All One,” “All the Believers Are Brothers,” “Leave Our Country, We Want Peace,” and similar proclamations of national and Islamic unity. Demonstrators chanted “No to America, no to Saddam, our revolution is Islamic!” The angular and white-bearded Kubeisi had been a strident opponent of the war, which he had warned would fail, but shortly after he was proved wrong he made haste from his comfortable life in Dubai for Baghdad, reportedly being flown in from Amman on an official UAE private jet.
    The sermon that followed the prayers elaborated the nationalist sentiments on the banners. Baghdad had been occupied by the Mongols, Kubeisi said, referring to the sacking of what was then the capital of the Muslim world in 1258. Now, new Mongols were occupying Baghdad; they were destroying its civilization and creating divisions between Sunnis and Shiites. The Shiites and Sunnis were one, however, and they should remain united and reject foreign control, he said. They had all suffered together as one people under Saddam’s rule. Saddam had oppressed all Iraqis and then abandoned them to suffer. There were no Sunnis or Shiites, Kubeisi said. All Iraqis were Muslims, and they had defended their country from the Americans and British as a united people. Kubeisi also thanked the Shiites of Basra for “defending their country against the foreign invaders.” He demanded an administration governed only by Iraqis and a council of Shiite and Sunni scholars to oppose any government the Americans tried to establish. “We fear that sectarianism will be exploited by our enemies,” he said, referring to the Americans, and urged unity between Sunnis and Shiites. “We will reconstruct our country,” he said, rejecting American interference and “a government that will oppress us,” calling instead for elections. He mocked the “continuous lies” that the Americans had come to get rid of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. “Where are these weapons?” he demanded. The Americans were the enemies of mankind, and had come for Iraq’s oil, he said. The American occupiers were the masters today, but they should not consider staying in Iraq. “Get out before we expel you,” he said, warning of the humiliation they would suffer. The sermon ended with shouts of “God is great!”
    The parallel with the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258 was ominous. It had shocked Muslims in the thirteenth century. Theologians like Taqi al-Din ibn Taimiya (1263-1328) from Aleppo in modern-day Syria blamed Muslims for failing to be sufficiently devout. A wave of conservatism spread throughout the Muslim world, trying to return Islam to its original purity. Often quoted by Osama bin Laden, Ibn Taimiya is the spiritual father of radical Sunnism, in particular the Wahhabi form of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia and the general Salafi trend dominant in international terror movements like Al Qaeda. Taimiya viewed offensive jihad as a duty of every Muslim and expressed extreme hatred for Shiites, who were treated as apostates. He even blamed Shiites for the Mongol sacking of Baghdad. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian fundamentalist who acts as Al Qaeda’s ideologue, has also relied on Taimiya’s fatwas, written as the Mongols devastated Baghdad. The Saudi government has been distributing the works of Taimiya throughout the world since the 1950s.
    Across from the Abu Hanifa Mosque I found a shop selling magazines that promoted Taimiya’s thoughts. Perhaps more ominous, many Sunnis blamed Shiites for the betrayal that led to the fall of Baghdad. In the thirteenth century the sultan had a Shiite adviser called Ibn al-Alqami, who was said to have sold out his people and helped the Mongols. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other Salafi jihadists would later curse Shiites as the “grandsons of Ibn al-Alqami” for their collaboration with the Americans, the new Mongols.
    Also in attendance at prayers that day was Sheikh Muayad al-Adhami, whom Kubeisi appointed as the new leader of the mosque. Adhami was angered by the entry of American marines into his mosque the previous week. The marines, who had not removed their shoes and had carried weapons, had violated Iraqi dignity, he said. Kubeisi’s close ties with the previous regime in Iraq would allow him to galvanize the Sunni elite and lead the community that had become disenfranchised with the end of the regime. There were few other Sunni personalities as well-known. His previous five years in exile created the false impression that he too had been opposed to Saddam, and he would attempt to use this to forge ties with former opposition figures who had returned. In the early months of the occupation, Kubeisi’s followers held joint demonstrations and prayers with anti-occupation Shiites such as the Sadrists. Their constant message was “maku farq,” meaning “there is no difference” between Sunnis and Shiites: “We are all Muslims.” But in retrospect they were protesting too much; behind the stentorian insistence that they were all united was the fear that they were not and the knowledge of what would happen should this secret become known.
    When Supreme Council leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim became head of the Iraqi Governing Council in late 2003, he began distributing land in Adhamiya to Shiites in order to increase its Shiite population, and he supported the construction of Shiite mosques there. But these mosques were often attacked, and some were blown up while still being constructed. Tensions continued to escalate. After Saddam’s capture in December 2003, rumors spread in Adhamiya that it was not their beloved leader after all. Residents emerged to celebrate, carrying pictures of Saddam and wielding Kalashnikovs and even RPGs. They clashed with U.S. troops, and locals maintained that U.S. forces were accompanied by the Supreme Council’s Badr Brigade. Others claimed that Iraqi police from Sadr City attacked the Sunni revelers. Residents of Adhamiya accused these forces of raiding the hospital to arrest those they had wounded. It was the first time Sunnis accused Shiite militias or security forces of attacking them.
    Adhamiya remained a bastion of support for the resistance. Although most of the resistance in that area was not Salafist, following the destruction of Falluja by the Americans in late 2004, a large number of Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad fighters moved into a building called Ras al-Hawash, which was close to the Abu Hanifa Mosque. There were foreign fighters among them, and they enjoyed the hospitality of the neighborhood’s families and employed local youths to collect information on their behalf. One test of bravery they gave local youths seeking entry into their group was to challenge them to place the flag of Tawhid and Jihad on the walls of the Abu Hanifa Mosque.
    At the same time as I was tracking the fate of the Abu Hanifa Mosque and the neighborhood around it, I was also curious about the neighborhood of Ghazaliya and would visit it often. Built in the 1980s for Baath Party members and Iraqi army officers, it had twelve Sunni mosques but none for Shiites, even though the area was mixed—Saddam had refused to allow Shiite mosques to be built there. Sunni mosques in Iraq rarely attracted the same large crowds as their Shiite counterparts. Sunnis merely went to the closest mosque in their neighborhood, which in this case was the Um Al Qura Mosque. Built by Saddam at the cost of $7.5 million, the mosque was originally named Um al Maarik (Mother of all Battles) but later changed to Um Al Qura (Mother of Villages), a reference to Mecca. The mosque served as a symbol of Saddam’s turn to Sunni Islam to legitimize his rule, and commemorated his glorious (albeit failed) battle against the United States and its allies in the Gulf War. A plaque by its door said it was “built by the order of President Saddam Hussein, may God keep him.” Its minarets are visible from a great distance, four of which are shaped like Kalashnikovs and four like Scud missiles, and its dome is taller than most in Iraq. The bright white marble mosque is surrounded by a moat shaped like the map of the Arab nations, and has a huge parking lot that has not been full since the heady days of the spring of 2004. Inside it feels more like a Gothic cathedral than any other mosque I have been to. It is silent, with natural light coming in from up high. It is more vertical in its orientation than most, which have a tendency to feel horizontal. Its walls are cream-colored with green and gold decorations. The imam’s voice echoes like a Gregorian chant.
    On July 18, 2003, a day after the old Baath coup anniversary, more than a thousand men with white skullcaps gathered for the Friday prayer and sermon. Signs were still up displaying the mosque’s original name. An adjoining museum contained a Koran allegedly written with Saddam’s donated blood. That day, Dr. Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, warned that the Americans should think of leaving Iraq to spare them and the Iraqis time, blood, and money. “It is the right of occupied people to resist the occupiers . . . the Iraqis will resist,” Dhari said. Did the Arabs not have the same right to resist occupation and expel the occupiers that other nations had? The Americans had to leave at once, and the Iraqi people would establish their own government, unite, and live as brothers. Dhari commended the members of the resistance, calling them “an honest opposition” of which Iraqis could be proud. He called on them to continue defending Iraq and resisting the occupation.
    Dhari condemned the Interim Governing Council, which, he claimed, had been established by “dishonest parties” and divided Iraq along sectarian lines. It would only cause hostility among the Iraqi people, he said. He was infuriated by the council’s declaration of April 9 as a national holiday, a day he described as “the downfall and surrender of Baghdad,” which should be commemorated with sorrow and pain. Dhari’s anti-Shiism came across obliquely, when he condemned the IGC for allowing one community (the Shiites) to dominate the others, despite statistics to the contrary (meaning he rejected claims that Shiites were the majority population in Iraq). Dhari also condemned exiled opposition leaders who came on the backs of U.S. tanks and called for killing former Baathists. Up to half the country’s population were former Baathists, he said, defending them as pious and well intentioned.
    As his voice built to a piercing, shrill cry, Dhari screamed out about crimes the Americans were committing: breaking into homes, searching women. “Do you agree with this?” he demanded of the crowd. “No!” they shouted back. Dhari reminded his audience that the Iraqis knew how to resist occupation, recalling the 1920 revolution against the British, when Sunnis and Shiites had fought together. As prayers ended and the men streamed out of the mosque, their bellicose spirit continued with shouts of “No to colonialism!” “No to the occupiers!” The crowd chanted rhyming slogans calling for the extermination of the infidel army, for Baghdad to revolt, and for Paul Bremer to follow the fate of Nuri as-Said, the British-protected prime minister who was killed by mobs in 1958. Leaflets distributed during the demonstration contained a statement calling on Muslims around the world to come to their aid to confront the atheist occupying forces and to re-establish the Islamic caliphate to defeat the American and British aggression.
    A few weeks later, on August 11, the Association of Muslim Scholars issued a statement condemning American violation of the mosques, which they said even the Mongols had not done. Iraq’s Islamic endowments were now being looted by criminals “from across the border,” meaning Shiites from Iran. The statement claimed that seventeen mosques had been robbed with the blessing of American forces. While acknowledging Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for his statements protecting Sunni mosques, they blamed the Americans for giving Shiites too much power, including control over the ministry of religious endowments. These Shiites did not protest the arrests of thirty clerics or the American violation of holy places.

The Rise of the Sadr Current

    The Sadr Current, as its supporters describe it, was a surprise to all outside observers of Iraq and even most middle-and upper-class Iraqis, but there were clues in the 1990s that this was a growing movement. Following the Gulf War, many Iraqis fled to Saudi Arabia or surrendered to the Americans. In the refugee camps where they were housed, fighting erupted between supporters of the Sadr Current and the rival Supreme Council of Hakim. The Hakim family was perceived to represent the elite; it also backed Ayatollah Khomeini’s system of clerical rule, known as wilayat al-faqih. Although theological differences existed, the bitter rivalry between followers of Hakim and Sadr can best be seen as both a class conflict and a symptom of the resentment of Iraqi nationalist Shiites who stayed in Iraq toward Hakim and his followers, who were in exile in Iran.
    The Sadrists are inspired by the example and teachings of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, arguably the most important Shiite theologian of the twentieth century, who challenged the quietist and traditional role of the Shiite clerical establishment, known as the hawza. He eventually confronted Saddam and was executed by him in 1980. His cousin Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr inherited his mantle, building an immense following among poor Shiites. Much as the Iraqi Communists once exploited the revolutionary potential of poor Shiites, so too did the Sadrists. The Shiite masses were attracted to these movements not so much for their ideology but for their anger. The hawza had historically been dominated by the traditional Shiite view that religious leaders should eschew politics and focus on the spiritual world and on advising their flock. In the 1950s, however, responding to government oppression and encroaching Western secularist trends, a more activist brand of Shiism developed. The activist Shiites sometimes referred to themselves as the outspoken hawza, or the revolutionary hawza, or active faala, and they disparagingly viewed their introverted counterparts as the silent hawza.
    In many ways the Sadrists are the subalterns of Iraq, part of the recurring phenomenon of Iraqi mass politics. The Sadrists rejected the obscure theological obsession of the establishment because they had little to do with the daily struggles of real people. Although Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr was killed in 1999 along with his more prominent sons, his surviving son, Muqtada, along with Muhammad’s top students, Muhammad al-Yaqoubi and Kadhim al-Haeri, led the movement in the underground phase it assumed until 2003. The Sadrists viewed attendance at Friday prayers, and particularly the Friday sermon, as an act of defiance and revolution, the moment when followers gathered, often pouring in the thousands into the streets, as a powerful collective. The Sadrists were fierce Iraqi nationalists and Arab nationalists, even pro-Palestinian. They were not Persianized, unlike Dawa and the Supreme Council.
    Muqtada, the populist upstart who inherited his father’s network of mosques and clerics, led the revolutionary class of poor Shiites. Educated and middle-class followers of his father split from him and joined the Fadhila movement, led by Yaqoubi. A dialectic developed between Muqtada and the angry masses: he followed them as much as they followed him. Soon the CIA would order its analysts to stop using the word “firebrand” every time they described him, and to find some variety.
    Immediately after the war, Muqtada and his network seized control of the Shiite sections of Baghdad and much of the south, and to occupy hospitals, Baath Party headquarters, and government warehouses, establishing themselves as the state in much of Iraq. Sunnis were the primary victims of the murderous settling of scores that began on April 9, 2003. The killers were usually Kurds or Shiites. Thousands of Arab families were also expelled from areas in the north of Kirkuk and Diyala, which Kurdish militias perceived as part of their territory. After Baghdad fell, angry Shiite mobs in the newly named Sadr City slaughtered radical Sunni foreign fighters, even burning tires around their necks. Many Iraqis wanted revenge. These foreign fedayeen had been given weapons and the authority to control Baghdad’s streets before the war. In April 2003 I met with a Shiite young man whose ear was cut by a group of Arab mujahideen because they accused him of being a deserter. Just as frightening for Sunnis was the seizure of their mosques throughout Iraq. Following the 1991 Shiite intifada, Saddam ordered the construction of large Sunni mosques in Shiite-dominated cities throughout the south. These were often named “the Great Saddam Mosque.” Immediately after the regime collapsed, these and other Sunni mosques were occupied by Shiites.
    “It is the beginning of the separation,” one Shiite cleric explained to me with a smile in May 2003. Immediately after the war Sunni clerics complained that at least thirty of their mosques had been taken over by Shiites and issued statements in newspapers demanding their return, but they were never returned. In some cases Shiites were reclaiming places of worship that Saddam had seized and given to Sunnis. This was the case with the Shiite Hassan Mosque in Karbala, which was given to Sunni hardliners in the 1990s.
    According to a friend of mine in Najaf, the cleric Sheikh Heidar al-Mimar, “There were no Sunnis in Najaf before the 1991 intifada, but Saddam brought all these Wahhabis to the Shiite provinces in order to control Shiites. These Wahhabis were very bad with us, and all Shiites were afraid of them. Saddam wanted to Sunni-ize Najaf and Karbala.” As a result, following the war these Sunni interlopers were immediately targeted by the inchoate Shiite militias.
    Shiite pilgrims traditionally donated money to the shrines of the imams they visited. This money added up to millions of dollars every month. Shiites believed Saddam used it in the 1990s to finance his Faith Campaign, which involved promoting Sunni practices in Iraq and even, for the first time, tolerance toward Wahhabis, perhaps because of their deep hatred for Shiites. Shiites resented the alleged theft of their money for Sunni purposes and sought to impose justice after the war. In July 2003 members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia even debated seizing the giant Um Al Qura Mosque in Baghdad’s Sunni bastion of Ghazaliya. The mosque served as the headquarters for the Association of Muslim Scholars, the neo-Baathist body that had been formed just after the American invasion to protect Sunni interests and unite Sunni leaders under the command of the Baathists-turned-clerics who would soon control much of the insurgency.
    The revolutionary Shiite wave that swept Iraq in the wake of the American invasion overthrew the order that had existed in Iraq until then. Shiites would not let history repeat itself. On April 7 Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, a cleric born in the Iraqi city of Karbala but exiled in the Iranian holy city of Qom since 1973, appointed Muqtada as his deputy and representative in Iraq for all fatwa affairs. Haeri urged Iraqis to kill all Baathists to prevent them from taking over again. In the southern city of Kut on April 18, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, brother of Shiite opposition leader Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim and leader of the Supreme Council’s ten thousand-strong Badr Brigade militia, proclaimed that Shiites were the majority in Iraq and hinted that they hoped for an Islamic government. That same day in Baghdad, Sheikh Muhammad al-Fartusi, Muqtada’s deputy for Baghdad, warned that Shiites would not accept a democracy that would obstruct their sovereignty. If Shiites did not have a say in the government, he said, it would be worse than under Saddam.
    In late April 2003 Shiites staged a massive celebration of their identity and show of force. They descended in the millions upon Karbala for Arbaeen, the day marking the end of the forty-day mourning period for the Prophet Muhammad’s slain grandson Hussein. These ceremonies had been severely restricted under Saddam, and it was the first time anybody could remember openly expressing such pride in their identity as Shiites. Sunnis watched with concern and some disdain for rituals they rejected as un-Islamic or primitive. On my way down to Karbala, I was detained by armed Shiite men who feared I was a Wahhabi. I talked and smiled my way out of it. Being an American wasn’t so bad in those days. At the time the incident did not seem significant, but in retrospect I realized it was: members of a Shiite militia were protecting their village from Sunni extremists—as early as April 2003. Throughout the ceremonies it was clear that Shiites were terrified of a phantom Wahhabi threat. In centuries past Wahhabis had swept up from Arabia and sacked Shiite shrines. Now Shiites feared Wahhabis would poison the food distributed to pilgrims. Soon many Shiites would view all Sunnis as Wahhabis.
    The ceremonies of Arbaeen and the more important holiday that precedes it by a month, Ashura, are not merely individual acts of contrition. They are performed collectively and publicly by Shiites, and these rituals unite and define the Shiite sense of community. For nearly two months of the year Shiites are engaged in these unique rituals and mourning processions. The messages are lashed into their bodies and minds. The virtues of Shiite leaders are contrasted to the alleged immorality of early Sunni leaders, who supposedly stole the mantle of leadership wrongly from Hussein and showed no mercy to his family, even the children. The founders of the Umayyad dynasty, perceived to be usurpers of the throne that should have gone to descendants of the Prophet through his cousin and son-in-law Ali (Hussein’s father), are condemned—and by implication so are their followers, Sunni Muslims. That first Arbaeen after the war was marked by Shiites not with the traditional sorrow or mourning that lead to flagellation and crying but with triumphalism. Iraq was now theirs. The Shiites who made their way to Karbala were united in one message: the hawza, or Shiite theological seminary and seat of the ayatollahs in Najaf, was their leader. Banners, songs, statements, all demanded that the hawza should lead Iraq. These sentiments did nothing to assuage Sunni fears, nor were they consistent with the promises of exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi, who promised that Iraq’s Shiites were secular and sought democracy. A few years later Shiite religious parties like the Supreme Council would control the country, and their militias would become the Iraqi police and army, running their own secret prisons, arresting, torturing, and executing Sunnis. Iraq now belonged to the followers of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and his relative Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr—the first and second martyr, respectively. Even Ahmad Chalabi, during the December 2005 elections, waved posters of Sistani in Sadr City after Sistani was criticized on Al Jazeera.

    IN MARCH 2004 I witnessed the Ashura bombings that killed nearly 200 Shiite pilgrims in both the holy city of Karbala and Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district. These attacks failed to provoke massive retaliation, but the sectarian violence did increase. A few days after the bombings, in Baghdad’s Shurta neighborhood, an SUV with masked men shot up a Shiite mosque; several days after that a Sunni cleric was killed in a drive-by shooting while walking to his mosque for the evening prayer. Hundreds attended his funeral, which was guarded by a phalange of very anxious armed men. Surrounded by his bodyguards, Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Ghafur al-Samarai of the Association of Muslim Scholars spoke at the funeral, calling on the youth to protect their religious leaders. It was like calling for the creation of self-defense militias. Following the murder of another Sunni sheikh, Dhamer al-Dhari, Samarai blamed the Americans for paying mercenaries to commit murders and cause sectarian strife. At the same time, he blamed the Americans for favoring the Shiites and discriminating against the Sunnis, and criticized them for not disarming the Kurdish and Shiite militias. Samarai also called for uniting Sunnis to prevent other militias from taking over, and blamed the occupiers and the Zionists for playing with Iraq’s factions. No one seemed to be talking about Sunni-Shiite unity anymore.
    Two nights after the Ashura bombings, the Qiba Mosque—a Sunni mosque in a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad’s Shaab district—was attacked. I had befriended a young man my age called Firas from the neighborhood; he called to tip me off about this, adding that the mosque was for “Wahhabis.” I asked the hotel where I was staying for its taxi driver, but I didn’t explain why I was going to Shaab. Not a single car was out as we drove for twenty minutes from the city center to the mosque. The streets of Shaab were misty and unlit. The road before the mosque was blocked by a truck and about twenty men holding Kalashnikovs.
    They surrounded the taxi, and young men in shabby civilian clothes pointed their barrels in through our windows. They demanded to know who we were and what we wanted. They were very tense. I asked the one on my side who he was, but he ordered me out of the car. The taxi driver explained that I was not an Iraqi. “He’s a foreigner!” they shouted to one another, and all the men came to the car. We tried to explain that I was a journalist, but they had never seen an American passport or a press ID before. Why was I here? What did I want? It was clear from the fear in their eyes and the anger in their voices that they wanted to find somebody to kill. They used none of the polite expressions that color even hostile Arabic conversation. They only gave orders, as if we were their prisoners, their voices echoing against the empty city’s buildings.
    The man with the slurred voice pointed his Kalashnikov at me and ordered me out of the car in a drunken rage. The driver and I protested that I was just a journalist, here to investigate an attack. Not knowing if they were Sunni or Shiite, I recited the names of every Iraqi Sunni and Shiite leader I could think of and said they were all my friends. I won over two men and they began struggling with the drunk man, who still wanted to shoot me. An argument broke out over whether or not they should kill me. The drunk man would not move the barrel down as they tried to push it, and I moved away from its swaying range. The others were undecided and nervously eyed me. One man rushed me into the mosque for safety. More armed guards stood inside. I tried to remember how to speak Arabic and felt ashamed that my knees were very weak. It was the first time I had ever been confronted with death. They confirmed that after the last prayer that night, as the devout were emptying onto the street, a car had driven by and opened fire. “Praise God, nobody was wounded,” they said, pointing to the white gashes in the wall where the bullets had torn chunks of plaster off. They added that only a few months ago, the same thing had happened. More men holding their Kalashnikovs in a ready-for-fire position came out.
    The next morning I returned. Shaab’s streets were busy with children playing amid garbage and sewage pools. Donkeys pulled carts carrying gas for stoves, and boys banged on the containers to let the neighborhood know they were passing. Before the war many forbidden Shiite books were printed illegally in Shaab, and it was known as the “Little Hawza.” American soldiers manned a checkpoint along with fresh Iraqi recruits, searching suspicious cars. A house near the mosque was riddled with bullets and burned. It belonged to a Wahhabi Muslim who had been killed in the summer of 2003 by local Shiites.
    Sheikh Walid Al-Dulaimi, the leader of the Qiba Mosque, was well liked in the neighborhood for being a friend to the Shiites, and locals said he even had problems with the previous regime because of this. Abu Hasan, the mosque caretaker, was busy fixing the generator, his hands and dishdasha robe blackened with grease. He explained that the attackers had opened fire from two cars, an Opel sedan and a Nissan pickup, at 7:30 the previous evening. They were dressed like police, he said, and before they managed to fire an RPG, one of the bystanders had grabbed it from them. “They want to create fitna [strife] between Sunnis and Shiites, but it won’t happen. I am sixty years old. I have never seen any problems between us. We intermarry and are friends. America is responsible for this.” Abu Hasan added that Shiites from the city and from nearby Sadr City had visited the mosque to show solidarity. Sheikh Dhia from the local Shurufi Mosque came along with tribal leaders. “We are a targeted mosque because Sunnis and Shiites both come here and are united,” he said. He insisted that fifty-two Sunni visitors had also been killed in the Kadhimiya attacks along with the Shiite victims.
    The mosque was first attacked in August of the previous year, he said, and three people had been wounded. After last night’s attack the police shot a man in the leg in a case of mistaken identity. Sayyid Nasr of the Sayyid Haidar Husseiniya—a husseiniya is a Shiite place of worship and communal gathering—also visited the Qiba Mosque to pay respects with thirty friends and relatives. As the honorific title of “sayyid” revealed, he was a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and thus respected. He was also the oldest and best-known sayyid in Shaab. I visited his large home, which was down the street from a wall with posters of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei. The walls of his study were decorated with posters of Supreme Council leader Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, who had been slain six months earlier in Najaf, as well as other ayatollahs. Nasr wore a black turban and thick glasses. “Our good leaders will prevent fitna,” he said. He explained that when he visited the Qiba Mosque, he told the gathered people that “I am Sunni and I am Shiite. We are all Muslims.” He was certain that “there will not be any problems between us,” and blamed Zarqawi for the attacks.
    He explained that the Wahhabi who had been killed the previous summer and whose house had been burned the night before was called Muhamad. On the day of Hakim’s murder in August 2003, Muhamad had gone to a nearby square that had a painting of the late Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr and Ali al-Sistani. “Muhamad spit and threw stones at the paintings, and then shot at them with his Kalashnikov,” Nasr said. “He killed one Shiite and wounded another. After that the men from the neighborhood shot him and burned his house. The Americans came to take his body and found many weapons in his house as well as pictures of bin Laden.” Muhamad was from the Dulaimi tribe, and in order to make peace the Dulaimis gave monetary compensation to the family of the murdered Shiite. “After this Sunnis and Shiites prayed together in the Qiba Mosque, and tomorrow we will do so again.” Nasr also mentioned that fifty-two Sunnis had perished in the Baghdad explosions. When I went to find the leader of the Qiba mosque, he did not unlock his door; instead, he suspiciously peered out, and even after being reassured that I was only a journalist, he did not remove the Kalashnikov strapped around his torso for a moment, afraid of everybody.

The Cleansing of Amriya

    In the summer of 2003 I met two young Sunni clerics in the Sunni stronghold of Amriya, who I would come across many times over the next few years. Sheikh Hussein Abu Mustafa, a round dark man with a round black beard and white turban, and Sheikh Walid were old friends. They had graduated together from the Baghdad Islamic Institute. I met them both in Sheikh Walid’s Tikriti Mosque, which had been built in 1999 by the head of intelligence. What happened to them over the next few years in many ways symbolized the topsy-turvy experience of many influential anti-occupation Sunnis. They were the first Sunni clerics I had met who seemed to be offering strong support to the Iraqi resistance. “We are very happy with the resistance of the Iraqi people to the American occupation, but we don’t support killing civilians and innocent people and taking impulsive actions,” they said.
    When I revisited Amriya and saw Sheikh Hussein in March 2004, mosque security was higher than ever. Amriya had been home to former Iraq military bases as well as former officers in the army and intelligence services. The sounds of gunfire and explosions reverberated through the neighborhood’s walls, ignored by the children playing in the street until a particularly loud explosion sent them scurrying inside. Neighbors spoke of the nightly attacks and raids. Just last night, they said, U.S. soldiers had raided a house, and when the suspect was not found they took his younger brother. Nearby was the house of a former intelligence officer. When the U.S. soldiers came for him, his family said he was not home and he escaped, wisely trading his conspicuous SUV for a smaller, older wreck of a car. And also last night, they said, from this very street—”We saw them,” they laughed—a car pulled over and shot three artillery rounds at the nearby base where U.S. soldiers trained the new Iraqi Security Forces. One round landed in a small mosque by the walls of the base, damaging its tower; one went over and past the base; and one landed somewhere inside.
    The walls of the Maluki Mosque were covered in pro-Saddam graffiti that had been unsuccessfully crossed out. Neighborhood boys surrounded it at prayer time, wielding Kalashnikovs unconvincingly. As the men strolled in for the Friday prayer, they were searched for concealed weapons. Slowly several hundred of the neighborhood men entered, greeting one another and gossiping in the courtyard and then removing their shoes and entering. As the muezzin finished his call to prayer, Sheikh Hussein carefully stepped between the closely seated worshipers, making his way to the podium and climbing up the steps. He began with blessings and reminded the people who their God and Prophet was, his voice low, slow, and gentle, his arms still; then he picked up the pace, arms waving faster, voice getting higher as he got more excited, until his voice cracked and he was nearly crying, chopping the air in a frenzy; and then he placed both hands out in supplication, his voice exasperated, slowing down as he answered his own questions, only to begin the cycle again, from low raspy rumble to the screaming crescendo that woke up those whose heads had sunk lower and lower into their chest in drowsiness.
    Sheikh Hussein began by discussing Ali, whom Sunnis consider the fourth caliph, who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad in leadership of the umma (Muslim nation). Ali is also revered by Shiites as the only caliph who should have followed Muhammad, since he was the Prophet’s relative. “Ali was the first feday [fighter willing to sacrifice his life] in Islam,” Sheikh Hussein lectured. “He taught the nation how to sacrifice oneself. Be like Ali and sacrifice yourself for Islam. Be like Hassan, who tried to unify the people and who compromised with Muawiya for the sake of unity so the Muslim world would not be weak like our situation now.” This was interesting. Hassan was the son of Ali, who expected to succeed his father as caliph but was turned down for Muawiya, a man from a family that rivaled the Prophet’s Hashem tribe. At first Hassan disputed Muawiya’s claim to leadership, but he ultimately compromised. Shiekh Hussein’s reference to this episode could only be directed at Iraq’s Shiites, the descendants of those who had wanted Muhammad’s family, starting with Ali, to lead Muslims. He was asking them to compromise and let Muawiya’s descendants, the Sunnis, maintain power.
    “Muhammad prophesied when Hassan was a child,” Sheikh Hussein explained, “that ‘my grandson will one day reconcile between two sects of Islam.’ Be like Hassan so we will be strong.” It seemed Sheikh Hussein might avoid mentioning Hassan’s more recalcitrant brother, Hussein, who chose to dispute the claim of Muawiya’s family after Muawiya and Hassan both died and Yazid, Muawiya’s son, was appointed caliph. “We condemn the attacks in Karbala and Baghdad,” he declared. “The first goal of the enemies of Islam is to make this country weak. They have a plan to make this country weak by causing a sectarian war so people will be busy fighting each other and they can control it, and our enemy the occupier will remain seated on our chests. So we condemn these attacks that are designed to provoke a sectarian war in this country.” Sheikh Hussein also condemned an earlier attack in Baghdad that had killed a young Shiite cleric. Then he continued, with a surprise, “We have to unify and be like Hussein, the martyr of Karbala, because he sacrificed himself for this country where many warriors were born. Hussein came to Iraq to fight a tyrant because he said, ‘I will not allow a tyrant to rule,’ and he did not want oppression. So he came to teach the people that any Muslim should sacrifice himself to prevent the creation of tyranny, and Hussein defined the path of martyrdom for the people who followed him and told them to follow it.” This is something you rarely hear from a Sunni. The divide between Hussein and Yazid split the Muslim world into Sunnis and Shiites and led to centuries of fitna between the two communities, with Shiites revering Hussein and hating Yazid and Muawiya, and Sunnis defending them and disparaging Hussein and his followers. “We are sorry, Hussein,” the sheikh cried out. “We are ashamed to meet you in the next life, because Baghdad has fallen.” By the end of the sermon, Sheikh Hussein had lost his voice and was too exhausted to talk to me.
    After prayer was over Sheikh Hussein shook hands with many of his flock, and they embraced and kissed in the way Sunnis of western Iraq do. (Sheikh Hussein is from the Dulaimi tribe, whose stronghold is the western Anbar province.) He then retreated to his house inside the mosque, where he feasted with his guests from the nearby town of Abu Ghraib as his horde of little boys sat in the corners. American helicopters flew low overhead, shaking the room while Sheikh Hussein and his guests discussed the latest killings of sheikhs and attacks on mosques, and grumbled about the Americans.
    In late 2003 at least four people were killed and seven injured when a drive-by shooting targeted the Hassanein Mosque in Amriya after the evening prayers. Sheikh Adnan, the cleric, explained that Shiite militiamen had attacked former regime intelligence men who were praying there. Some locals complained that Sunnis were complacent while attacks were perpetrated against them with impunity. Sheikh Adnan warned that this would lead to worse trouble for Shiites and Sunnis. He also complained that when Sunni clerics went to pay their condolences after the killing of Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim of the Supreme Council, they were called “Jewish Wahhabis.”

    THE MOOD WAS COARSENING in Amriya. Wall advertisements that featured photos of women were painted black to remove the female faces. Amriya is a wealthy neighborhood too; it has many English-speaking citizens, some of whom worked as translators with the American military. Many of them were killed; many others had to flee Amriya for safer neighborhoods. In the months leading up to the first election for a provisional national assembly in January 2005, Amriya’s streets were full of leaflets and walls calling for “death for those who disappoint what they had promised God,” meaning death for those participating in the election. Some insurgent groups patrolled the streets at night and launched their mortars toward the airport. Hundreds of Shiite families were brutally cleansed from the area; they would find sanctuary in areas under the control of the Sadrists.
    Jafar was a Shiite originally from the predominantly Shiite town of Nasiriya in southeast Iraq. His family moved to Baghdad in 1940 but maintained connections with their tribe in the south. Jafar lived in Amriya in a big house with his seventy-year-old mother, two of his brothers, and their wives. Each brother had three or four children. The family was known in Amriya for practicing the Shiite tradition of cooking food and giving it away to poor people on Ashura; they did this even under the former regime, when it was permitted in the last two years of Baath rule.
    Mueisar, Jafar’s third brother, was a soldier in the Iraqi army and was captured at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War in 1982. He had been a soldier with the Badr Brigade—who were stationed in Iran as an armed exile group—but he was too physically weak to be a soldier, so he left it in 2001. Mueisar returned home to Amriya after the U.S. invasion, accompanied by his Iranian wife and three children. He was the only member of his Iranian family who spoke Arabic. When he returned to Amriya Mueisar registered his children in the local school so that they could learn Arabic and mix with other Arab children.
    A few days after the second battle of Falluja started in late 2004, a new family belonging to the biggest Sunni tribe, the Dulaimi, moved to Amriya to live with their relatives, the Abu Khalel family, who were Jafar’s neighbors. Just like many displaced families who fled Falluja, they were too poor to rent a house, so they were hosted by relatives. Because Amriya’s houses are often large enough to host large families, many displaced decided to go there. A few days later some Shiite families received threats demanding that they leave their houses. After one Shiite family vacated their house, which stood next to the one Abu Khalel owned, his relatives took it over.
    Jafar’s family had been trying to sell their house since 2003, because each brother wanted to have his own house near his work. But it was very old, and they did not get the price they wanted. Jafar and his brothers were shocked on September 4, 2005, when they found an envelope in their garage containing a letter with printed script threatening their lives if they did not leave their home within forty-eight hours. The text said: “In the name of God, do not think God is unaware of what the oppressors are doing. To Anwar, Shubbar, Mueisar, and Jafar: We are watching your movements step after step, and we know that you have betrayed God and his messenger, for that we give you forty-eight hours to leave Amriya forever, and you should thank God that you are still alive. And there will be no excuse after this warning.”
    The writer was not very well versed in the Koran. The letter had no header or signature to reveal its origins, and there was no hint suggesting which jihadi group had issued it. It seemed more like a threat from somebody angry at the family than from someone involved in jihadist activities. Despite this, the family did not want to risk ignoring the letter.
    Jafar’s family was one of four Shiite families living on a street that had twelve Sunni homes, but his became the third Shiite family on that street to flee Amriya within a month. One of the families had a son working as a translator with the U.S. Army; they fled the area after he was murdered at the gate of his home. The other had a son working in the Iraqi police; they also fled after receiving a threat. Jafar’s family took their threat seriously and started calling relatives and seeking help to find another house to live in before the forty-eight-hour deadline ran out. They also rushed to tell all the neighbors that they were leaving in order to send the message to whoever had made the threat.
    More refugees from the siege of Falluja settled in western Baghdad neighborhoods such as Ghazaliya, Amriya, and Khadra, as well as in the villages just west of Baghdad such as Abu Ghraib. These were majority-Sunni strongholds where both insurgents and Salafis had a formidable presence. Soon after, more Shiite families in Amriya received threats urging them to leave. Those who ignored the threats had their homes attacked or their men murdered by Sunni militias. Shiites began to take these threats more seriously, and the process of sectarian cleansing began. Homes vacated by Shiites were seized by displaced Sunnis. These operations were conducted by insurgents as well as relatives of the displaced who wanted to house them somewhere. Shiites, in turn, fled to areas controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters.

    “And speed the appearance of the Mahdi, and damn his enemies and make victorious his son Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!”

    In Baghdad’s Kadhim Mosque, in the northern district of Kadhimiya, in the spring of 2004, the Shiite faithful began the traditional chorus of “Our God prays for Muhammad and Muhammad’s family.” But they continued with a strange innovation: “And speed the appearance of the Mahdi, and damn his enemies and make victorious his son Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” This had never been heard before, but Turkmen Shiites were shouting it at demonstrations in front of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters and repeating it in their daily prayers. Thousands of Muqtada’s followers, including two thousand members of his militia, demonstrated at a February 27 show of force in Kirkuk.
    I first met Muqtada al-Sadr in May 2003, when he was just beginning to outrage the Shiite establishment embodied in the hawza. Each marja (cleric) had his own office and received a tithe from his followers. Muqtada came out of nowhere, with no experience or education, but he commanded thousands of young men almost immediately. He spoke in the name of his revered father and of the mustad’afin (the poor and downtrodden masses), and he spoke in their language, Iraqi dialect and its slang, much as his father had. He alone was known by his first name, because Iraq’s Shiite masses felt a personal bond with him. While Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was the most respected religious authority for Iraq’s Shiites, Muqtada represented them, he spoke for them, he led them politically and spiritually. Tens of thousands would die for him. He was the most important person in Iraq after the war, and his power has only grown. Chubby, with an unkempt beard, he was awkward and unsure of himself back then, coming across more like an arrogant street punk with a lisp than a religious leader among Najaf ’s refined and somewhat snobbish clerical aristocracy.
    He rejected all other Shiite clerics and scoffed at America, but it would be nearly a year before his men would openly fight the occupation. Still, he warned that the time would come. His men had already taken over much of Shiite Iraq, providing social services and security and imposing their strict interpretation of Islam on women and more liberal Muslims. His network of clerics coordinated their sermons, and his bayanat (statements) were posted on mosque walls throughout Iraq.
    On June 23, 2003, Muqtada, having just returned from a trip to Iran—where he had met with government officials and Ayatollah Haeri, his father’s official successor and intellectual heir, and commemorated the death of Ayatollah Khomeini—visited Baghdad for the first time since his father’s death in 1999. He visited the neighborhoods of Kadhimiya and Shula before arriving in Sadr City, where tens of thousands greeted him with Iraqi flags as well as flags from the Bahadal, Msaare, Al Jazair, and Fawawda tribes. Before Muqtada took the stage, a speaker read the victory verse from the Koran: “If you receive God’s victory and you witness people joining Islam in great numbers, thank your God and ask him to forgive you, for God is very merciful.” People chanted: “Muqtada, don’t worry! We will sacrifice our blood for the hawza!” A melody for a song that had once praised Saddam now carried a song praising Muqtada. There was a lot of clapping, and a speaker asked the people to make way for Muqtada, but they would not move, each wanting to get closer to their revered leader. “I visited this city when my father was alive, and I will visit this city on this day every year,” Muqtada cried. “People should join the hawza and the marjas and support them . . . do not believe in rumors, verify them with the hawza first . . . a humanitarian office will be established for Sadr City.” Muqtada spoke of the memory of the martyrs and promised the Iraqi people that the unemployment problem would soon be solved because companies would return to Iraq. He spoke for seven minutes, after which the crowds of adulators would not let him leave.
    That month the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council proposed including Muqtada as a member, but other Shiite members on the council rejected the idea. Muqtada and his constituency were radicalized by the exclusion, and he was pushed further into the arms of Haeri, who was living in exile in Iran. Though Muqtada’s politics were inchoate, lacking ideology and seeking only inclusion and power, Haeri was a rigid Khomeinist, with a clearly defined political program aimed at establishing a theocracy in Iraq, just as Khomeini had established his in Iran twenty-five years ago when he ousted the monarch.
    The next month, on July 20, Muqtada claimed that American soldiers had surrounded his home and were planning to arrest him. Thousands of protesters descended upon Najaf, heeding their leader’s call. Many were bused or trucked in from Baghdad or Basra. Some even came in ambulances. They confronted American soldiers and marines. Demonstrators chanted, “No Americans after today,” echoing the motto of Saddam’s storm troopers in the 1991 intifada, who had ransacked southern Iraq warning that there would be “no Shiites after today.” Demonstrators also chanted against America, colonialism, tyranny, and the devil. Some carried swords and flags. Clerics bellowed condemnations of the Americans, comparing them to Saddam. Their protest in Najaf opened with a message from Haeri, read aloud to the crowd. Haeri condemned the “American agents” of the Iraqi Governing Council and called on the clerics to rule Iraq. Meeting outside the shrine of Ali, they walked past Najaf ’s cemetery in rows and columns, like soldiers. Marching to the American base in Najaf, Sheikh Aws al-Khafaji spoke out against the Americans and the IGC, accusing them of spreading corruption and defiling the holy city of Najaf. The leaders of the protest handed a list of demands to an American colonel, demanding that Americans leave Najaf immediately.
    Muqtada continued to test the limits of Americans’ tolerance, sometimes virtually declaring war on them, then retreating and welcoming them as friends. In March 2004 the Americans closed his newspaper, Al Hawza, accusing it of calling for violence, and arrested an influential associate of his. This further alienated his followers from the American-led project in Iraq and increased his prestige and following among Shiites, whose sect is preoccupied with martyrdom and resisting oppression.
    Following the January 2005 elections, Muqtada’s representatives in the National Assembly demanded a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, a demand also made by Sunni rejectionists. The initiative had the support of 120 of the 275 Assembly members. Muqtada joined these Sunni rejectionists in condemning the draft constitution—especially its federalism—warning that it would lead to the break up of Iraq. Like Sunni Arabs in Iraq, Muqtada opposed federalism for the Kurds as well as the move by Supreme Council leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to establish autonomous Shiite regions in the south on the model of the northern Kurdish Regional Government. Muqtada’s followers demonstrated against the Constitution, marching with Sunnis in some cases. In the summer of 2005, militiamen loyal to Muqtada clashed with Supreme Council militiamen in several Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, Nasiriya, Najaf, and Amara. Despite the tensions between Supreme Council and the Sadrists, Muqtada was invited by Supreme Council and Dawa to join the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shiite list competing in the December 15 elections for the National Assembly. They needed the numbers he could provide. Muqtada was granted equal status with the two other parties and potentially more than thirty seats in the Assembly. He was legitimate now, it seemed, no longer on the outside. Later that year he visited Saudi Arabia on the hajj pilgrimage as an official guest of the Saudi king, and then he visited Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, practicing his diplomatic skills but also establishing a close relationship with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and with Lebanese Shiites. Muqtada would be the protector of newly targeted Shiites, and their avenger.
    The articles that the Sunnis were reading in their newspapers, as well as the statements of prominent Sunni leaders however, made it clear that the alliance with Muqtada’s militant Shiites was a temporary measure to battle a common foe. One article in Basair, (The Mind’s Eye), a newspaper published by the Association of Muslim Scholars, condemned the (Shiite) police for killing Sunnis “for the benefit of groups for whom the police work [the Americans],” and supported the (Sunni) resistance’s attacks on the police. “Iraqis know about the conspiracy to cause sectarian strife among them,” an article began, quoting accusations made by Naseer Chadarchi, a Sunni member of the Iraqi Governing Council, that “thousands of Iranians [Shiites] are sneaking into Iraq.” “They should not get citizenship, as already happened in Amara, where 10,000 Iranians received Iraqi citizenship.” The article, voicing typical Sunni paranoia that all Shiites were in fact illegal Iranians, suggested that “many groups are sneaking into Iraq to get passports” and hinted at the Sunni fear of a democracy that would result in the Shiite majority determining the shape of the new country. “This is why some people [meaning Shiites] want direct elections and a census that will benefit them,” the article continued.
    Another article expanded on this theme, describing the “dangerous demographic changes in Iraq after the war” and referring again to an imagined influx of Iranians who created a Shiite majority. “Occupation forces will change the demography of Iraq for their benefit,” the article warned, “using the huge capabilities of the occupation forces, their intelligence and experience in this field. These new demographic changes are worse than Saddam’s because they [Americans] are using migrations, economic rules and killing to increase the population of certain sects such as Iranians, Kurds and Turks. We want to say that the reaction [meaning violent attacks] of Arabs [meaning Sunnis] in the west and south is a reaction to these changes. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are also part of Iraq, so there are more Arabs [Sunnis] but borders separate them. America is the cause of these changes.”
    The article attributed the secret plot to “the Jewish and Zionist strategy in the Middle East and the security of Israel in the future.” The author warned that “these demographic changes and their direct effects on future elections and the type of government will lead to a civil war to divide Iraq, and we will have a racist government that will oppress most nationalities and minorities.” The author explained that “Iranians want to increase the ratio of Persians among the [Arab] Shiites, which will increase the ratio of Shiites in Iraq and Baghdad in hidden and declared ways.”

Dora—First Outbreaks of Civil War

    Dora, in southern Baghdad, was one of the first areas where the civil war began. Although mixed, it was majority Sunni. The cleansing of Dora’s Shiites was mostly carried out by local insurgents who lived in the adjoining rural areas of Arab Jubur and Hor Rajab, but some of it was conducted by crooks who kidnapped members of rich families and demanded money for their release.
    Solaf was a thirty-three-year-old carpenter working out of his large house in Dora. He was the youngest of five brothers and one sister from the poor Abu Mohammed family, which had lived in Dora since 1974. Mohammed, the eldest brother, joined the police in mid-2004, and in May 2005 he was told he would be killed if he did not quit. Mohammed moved out of his parents’ house and rented a small house in eastern Baghdad’s majority-Shiite Shaab district, but because he had no other profession to turn to, he kept his job as a policeman.
    It took Solaf ’s family more than a month to find a good offer on their house. In mid-July 2005 they finally agreed to sell, though there was a delay in signing the contract. Solaf ’s street was full of children every evening, and he would spend many nights sitting at the gate of his home chatting with friends. On July 28 he was sitting there as usual with one of his Sunni friends when a white Hyundai stopped a few meters away from them. An unmasked gunman emerged wearing civilian clothes and started shooting, killing Solaf and his friend. Solaf ’s brothers and his relatives gathered the next day and buried his body. On the second day of Solaf ’s funeral, the family received another letter warning them to leave the city. The family ended the funeral and left Dora forever.
    A week after Solaf’s murder, his mother phoned several of her old neighbors and bitterly complained about Sunnis and her family’s new but much smaller house in the majority-Shiite neighborhood of Shuula. She said she had received a call from the mother of Solaf ’s Sunni friend. The Sunni man’s mother told her that her family had received jizia (blood money) of two million Iraqi dinars and an apology from the mujahideen for killing her son, because Solaf had been the only target. Solaf had been targeted because his brother was in the police. The mujahideen who killed him were from the Jubur tribe, which dominated the insurgency in Dora and was the main Sunni tribe in Baghdad. Two Sunni families moved into Solaf’s old house; among them was a twenty-four-year-old man named Mustafa, who was a member of the insurgency.
    Haji E’nad was a Shiite who owned a shop on the corner just down the road from Solaf ’s house. At the end of September 2005, three unmasked gunmen raided his shop and killed his son Rashid. They walked away; they did not even use a car. Haji E’nad’s family fled Dora the next day. They did not have a funeral, nor did they tell any of the neighbors where they were going. They simply locked the doors and moved out, leaving their property, and nobody in Dora heard from them again. Families were afraid to tell anybody that they had been threatened so as not to further antagonize those who had threatened them.
    More followed suit. Abu Ali, a Shiite whose family had been neighbors of Solaf and who also said he had been threatened, sold his property and moved to Hilla province in mid-December 2005. One week later his neighbor Iyad, whose shop was about 100 meters away from Solaf’s house, closed it and fled Dora, too. Iyad moved some of his most important property out, left the rest in one room, and locked the house. He phoned some neighbors two days later and asked them to watch the house and report any attack. He explained that he was afraid because he was Shiite and had a brother who had been executed by the former regime for allegedly belonging to the Dawa Party. “Dora is not for Shiites any more, and only Sunnis can live there,” Iyad said. “Sunnis are attacking Shiites to force them to leave and sell their houses for cheap prices. I am not going to give my house to Sunnis for free.” Although sectarianism was the primary motive, some Sunnis did derive economic benefit from the removal of Dora’s Shiites. Soon poor Sunnis could purchase a good house in Dora and live among other Sunnis for much less than what they would normally have paid before.

The Brothers Mulla Murder Gang

    Shiites had militias of their own, which were prepared to avenge the deaths in their community and sometimes to profit from the violence too. Maalif is a majority-Shiite neighborhood in Seidiya, which is in southwestern Baghdad. It was established in the late 1980s when the government decided to transfer tribes from villages in the Taji area north of Baghdad so that it could build a factory and a military camp where they had been living. The families preserved their tribal habits and traditions in the city. Maalif was divided among a few large tribes and a collection of other poor people (Sunnis and Shiites) who moved to the city in the 1990s for cheap living, but its population was overwhelmingly Shiite, unlike Seidiya, which is nearly evenly split. Being a poor neighborhood, Maalif tended to see higher rates of violence, criminality, and religiosity among its residents.
    In Maalif people from the same tribe often enter the same profession and cause problems for outsiders seeking to compete. The Dilfi tribe had buses for transportation, the Chaab had pickups for transportation, and the Tual were all butchers. Hussein was a butcher from the Tual tribe who had about five butcher shops in Seidiya. His partner, a man called Ahmed al-Mulla, was also from his tribe. Hussein and Ahmed had many contracts with the former regime to provide meat for the army. This had enriched them and sealed their friendship.
    After the Americans overthrew Saddam, two of the Mulla brothers returned home from exile in Iran, where they had been soldiers in the Badr Brigade. Ahmed and Hussein became religious and hung portraits of Shiite leaders like Sistani and Khomeini all over their shops’ walls. They joined the Badr Brigade and formed an assassination group, transforming one of Hussein’s shops in the Elam neighborhood into an office for interrogating former regime loyalists, whom Hussein called Saddamists. Hussein and Ahmed obtained Baath Party records with the names, addresses, and details of members in Seidiya—they even included the types and serial numbers of weapons owned by the men. The records were a gift to Ahmed from Shiite locals who had raided the Baath Party office in their neighborhood and transformed it into a Shiite mosque after the fall of Baghdad. Hussein and Ahmed scanned the records and interviewed about ten former Baath Party members a day. They would knock on their doors and inform the Baathists: “You were a Baath Party member, and you need to come visit us in our office in the Elam Market to clarify a few issues.” Then they would leave.
    They opened their office in May 2003. It had a desk with two chairs for Ahmed and Hussein as well as a long bench and portraits of Sistani and Khomeini. The Baathist would enter their office, sit on the bench, and sign a statement that he was innocent and not involved in any of the Baath Party crimes. The statement said: “I condemn all the former regime’s activities against the Iraqi people and I regret everything I have done with that regime and I promise to never help the Baath Party again.” Then they would be asked to hand over their weapons, and Ahmed and Hussein would compare the serial numbers with those on record.
    Local Baathists were frightened of this organization and started fleeing Seidiya. Ahmed and Hussein were careful not to let any Baathist retain his weapons. The murder of Baathists in Seidiya intensified one month after the office opened. Hussein and Ahmed sought to obtain a fatwa that would give them legitimate cover for their militia, but they failed to find a respected cleric to provide one. Even their dearest friend and neighbor Sheikh Dhafer al-Qeisi, Sistani’s representative for southern Baghdad, refused to acquiesce, although he backed their activities.
    Their group was very professional, driving fast Opel cars with many young members who moved quickly. They assassinated more than fifty alleged “Saddamists.” Ahmed spoke proudly about his operations in public and often said that he would exceed 100 dead Saddamists by the end of 2005. He was also known to kill Salafis from the Sunni mosque next to the Elam Market. Sunnis in Elam began to fear Ahmed, worrying that they might be targeted next, since most of the former Baathists in his neighborhood were Sunni. In late 2004 Sunnis from the Omar Mosque in Elam formed an assassination squad; their main targets were Ahmed and Hussein.
    One evening in March 2005, Kadhim, a member of Ahmed and Hussein’s group, was hanging out in a shop with Ahmed when they were attacked. Kadhim died immediately. Ahmed was seriously wounded and remained in the hospital for one month to recover from his injuries. One week after he left the hospital, while he was visiting his shop again, he was assassinated. His sixteen-year-old assistant died with him. After Ahmed’s death the group ceased conducting operations, and Hussein received letters in his shops threatening him with death if he did not leave the neighborhood. Hussein was shot in October 2005 with his brother Mohammed while they were driving their truck home one evening. Hussein died immediately but Mohammed remained conscious long enough to make a phone call. He was seriously wounded, but he survived.
    The day after Hussein’s murder, his eldest brother was locking up his shop when he found another letter: “In the name of God, we did not oppress them but they were oppressing themselves, those who killed the sons of Sunnis and Baathists, they killed the men, made the children orphans, and made the wives widows, they are cursed for what their hands have done. We will beat them like they beat us, and we will kill them everywhere.”
    Hussein had lived in a big house with his brothers and cousins and was surrounded by fellow tribesmen. His area had a robust Shiite majority and was full of Mahdi Army men, but his family did not feel safe enough to stay in Maalif. They left their houses and shops to return to the south, from where they had come thirty years earlier.
    A few months later, on December 25, 2005, thirteen Sunni families were threatened and ordered to leave their homes in Maalif. Two families responded immediately, leaving the next day. The men in other families hid or left the area, leaving only the women. (Militias typically did not target women.) A Sunni woman in Maalif who hid her son at home explained the dilemma that many experienced: “There is a conspiracy to force Sunnis out of Baghdad. We are limited in the cities we can move to. We cannot move to Shula, Hurriya, Dolaie, Shaab, New Baghdad, or Al Amin, because we might face the same threats there. We can only move to Sunni neighborhoods dominated by the resistance, such as Dora and Amriya, but it is not even safe to live there. We cannot write on the walls that we are Sunnis to avoid attacks. And we might be attacked by the army by accident, since we live next to terrorists.”
    Maalif was a neighborhood in the larger Bayaa district. The Bayaa Mosque, located off of the highway, had belonged to followers of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada’s father. It was led by Sheikh Muayad al-Khazraji, a former student of Sadr’s who had been jailed by Saddam following Sadr’s assassination in 1999. On Friday, April 25, 2003, Sheikh Muayad warned his flock that if he learned of any Iraqi woman sleeping with American soldiers, he would inform her tribe and call for her death. As well as worrying about how Iraqi women comported themselves, Sheikh Muayad hid many weapons in his mosque. Eventually the Americans arrested him for this, provoking massive protests by Shiite supporters. But the civil war seemed to extend itself to prison, where Sheikh Muayad’s life was constantly threatened by Salafis. Upon his release, Sheikh Muayad paid a visit to another Sadrist cleric, Sheikh Haitham al-Ansari, and told him that his experiences in jail had changed his view of the Americans. “After I was in the jail, I knew who is my enemy and who is not,” Sheikh Muayad said. “The Americans are not my enemy. The Americans have interests, and anybody who wants to block Americans from obtaining those interests becomes their enemy, and they destroy him. Stay away from their road and they will not touch you. Our enemies are the Wahhabis. They used to attack us in the jail many times, they wanted to assassinate me more than once, and one of their main goals is to damage Ali’s tomb in Najaf.”
    Sunnis perceived the post-Baathist state as the enemy because state organs, along with the Americans, had been treating Sunnis as the enemy since 2003. Even before the elections of 2005, the government felt pressured to show Shiite masses that something was being done about the daily car bombs slaughtering them in the streets. Iraqi television began showing a highly sectarian program titled Terror in the Hands of Justice, on which alleged Sunni insurgents were shown confessing to crimes such as rape and sodomy. On one episode an interrogator accused prominent Sunni tribes such as the Jubur, Janabi, and Dulaimi of being terrorists. The show increased Sunni fears that the Shiite-dominated security forces were targeting them en masse.
    When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—the brutal leader of the jihadist group that morphed into Al Qaeda in Iraq after Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden—declared war on Shiites in a speech on September 14, 2005, Iraq’s radical Sunni leadership were quick to condemn it. The Association of Muslim Scholars announced that Iraq’s Shiites were not responsible for the crimes the government was committing with the Americans’ blessings, and that they were innocent of the attacks against Sunnis carried out by the Americans. No religious principle allowed one to seek revenge on an innocent person, they said, and accused Zarqawi of colluding in the Americans’ plan to create civil war in Iraq. Meanwhile, five resistance groups, the Army of Muhammad, the Al Qaqa Battalions, the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Army of Mujahideen, and the Salahuddin Brigades, condemned Zarqawi’s statements as well, calling them a “fire burning the Iraqi people” and explaining that they only attacked the occupiers and those who assisted them, and did not base their attacks on sectarian or ethnic criteria.
    But these Sunni condemnations did not suffice for Muqtada al-Sadr. In late 2005 he sent a letter to various Sunni leaders stating that Zarqawi had labeled all Shiites infidels and that he and all Shiites were being targeted by Zarqawi’s deadly attacks. Muqtada demanded that Sunni leaders label Zarqawi an infidel and condemn him. No Sunni leader acceded to his demands. Some explained that it was too dangerous for them to do so, but Muqtada refused to accept their apologies and did not grant their fear of Zarqawi any merit. In addition, the Association for Muslim Scholars didn’t just fail to heed Muqtada’s call to condemn Al Qaeda; one of its spokesmen, Muhammad Bashar al-Faidih, dismissed the letter with sarcasm. And its leader, Harith al-Dhari, allegedly said, “We are from Al Qaeda and they are from us.” This must have been especially galling for Muqtada, because in the early period of the occupation the young Shiite cleric referred to Dhari respectfully as “al Ab al-Mujahid,” the Mujahid Father. The Mahdi Army in Karbala had always been different from the one in Baghdad. It was less sectarian, less criminal, focused more on providing services. But even their language started to change after the AMS rejected Muqtada’s condemnation of Zarqawi.
    This was a key moment for the Sadr movement and for sectarian relations in Iraq. Sadr decided to join the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shiite coalition list in the December 2005 elections. For the first time one could see Mahdi Army soldiers sitting with Sistani followers and discussing politics amicably, whereas in the past it had been difficult even to have them in the same room without arguments occurring. Mahdi Army fighters complained bitterly about their betrayal by the Sunnis.
    In March 2005 Sheikh Ahmad Abdel Ghafur al-Samarai, director general of the Sunni Endowment and a former top official in the Association for Muslim Scholars, gave a sermon in the Um Al Qura Mosque calling on Iraqi Sunnis to join the Iraqi military and police as long as they supported their nation and not the occupiers of Iraq. If the “honest and loyal elements” of Iraq, meaning its Sunnis, did not participate, then those who sought to harm the security of the nation, meaning Shiites, would dominate the security forces. Samarai later explained that the “real resistance” understood the importance of such a move because they did not want militias, meaning Shiite and Kurdish militias, ruling Iraq. Sixty-four other high-ranking Sunni clerics from throughout Iraq signed on to Samarai’s fatwa.

The Balance of Power Shifts

    The balance of power shifted that year, and Shiite militias, led by the Mahdi Army, took the offensive. Bayan Jabr Solagh took over as interior minister after the 2005 elections. A Shiite of Turkoman origin, he had been the Supreme Council representative in Damascus in the 1990s. At the Interior Ministry he inherited more than one hundred thousand armed men. Along with Badr Brigade leader Hadi al-Amiri and others, he turned commando units such as the Hawk, Volcano, Wolf, and Two Rivers brigades into death squads. (In late 2005 the American military uncovered secret prisons these death squads were running, which were full of Sunnis. Bayan Jabr was not surprised by the revelations, a minister at the time told me. He didn’t question them; he just wanted to minimize the fallout, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioning how cameras got into Abu Ghraib.)
    The Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, or MNSTCI (pronounced “minstikee”), run by Gen. David Petraeus, was in charge of rebuilding the Iraqi Security Forces. The Americans were focused on building institutions, but they neglected the training of individuals, leading to huge numbers of inexperienced and poorly trained police being pushed out into the provinces without supervision. They were easily co-opted by sectarian forces. In late 2004 MNSTCI was planning on working with the Interior Ministry to create a riot police force. When MNSTCI decided to create the riot police, they ordered batons, plastic shields, and the other appropriate gear, but the security situation was so desperate that the Iraqis decided to turn it into a light infantry battalion under the Interior Ministry’s control.
    Americans at MNSTCI heard that an Iraqi battalion had established itself in an old Republican Guard palace outside the Green Zone. Several hundred Iraqis served under the nominal command of a self-appointed Iraqi brigadier general, who was a Shiite former Republican Guard and had been imprisoned in Abu Ghraib. Most of his senior officers were ex-prisoners he knew from Abu Ghraib. It didn’t hurt that Bayan Jabr was his nephew. Money flowed to the unit. After the elections in January 2005, another battalion was added to it: the Iraqi police commandos.
    The Americans wanted to create a “special police” and already had two battalions of those, so there were four battalions of infantry—essentially, a mini army under the Interior Ministry. At the time the Americans had just realized that the Iraqi army had to be pulled off the line and trained again, so for a while the only units fighting were the police commandos. “It was the era of the pop-up unit,” one senior American official from MNSTCI told me. “You had a unit in the Iraqi army that was a militia called the Boys of East Baghdad. There were a lot of self-organized units. Right from the outset we were concerned about Shiite sectarianism, but even the concept of setting up comprehensive basic training [fifteen weeks of training in a centralized depot] was alien.”
    The Americans had firm control over the Defense Ministry because they destroyed the army and recreated it from scratch, attaching many advisers to it. But they never dismantled or took over the Interior Ministry. The few American intelligence officers at Interior were cooperating with the Iraqis to get information on Sunni armed groups. They couldn’t tell the difference between the Supreme Council, the Badr militia, and the Mahdi Army. The Americans hadn’t even translated the Iraqi laws into English.
    Soon after Petraeus departed, the deputy minister of interior for finance explained to the outgoing commander of the Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT), General Fils, that none of the weapons they distributed were accounted for because they were distributed directly to the police stations. One of those weapons was traced to a murder in Turkey. Many ended up in the hands of militias or the resistance. I would find them in Lebanon as well.
    The way MNSTCI and CPATT were handled led to many of the troubles Iraq would later face, such as weapons in the hands of insurgents, the expansion of Shiite militias into security services, and difficulty assessing Iraqi police capabilities. Petraeus was spared approbation because he left before the impact of these problems became clear and returned when some corrections had already been made.
    The road to Kut in the south was the site for many attacks on military and logistical convoys for the Americans and the Iraqi state, as well as ordinary Shiite civilians. To counter this, Interior Ministry forces arrested many men living in homes along the road. The security forces were made up of Shiites; the men they arrested were Sunnis. Operations such as this were a result of the increasingly aggressive and Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces. Some of this was inevitable because Sunnis had avoided joining these new forces but the Interior Ministry had been given to Shiites, and poor young Shiite men were the ones most likely to fill the ranks of these forces. Most poor young Shiite men supported Muqtada, so it followed that the security forces fell under the control of Sadrists and their Mahdi Army.
    Iran wanted to weaken the Sunni grip on power in Iraq, and the Badr militia was its spearhead, a former minister close to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told me. “Iran had a role,” he said. “They forced people to confront what was happening and use resources under their control to organize a fighting force. Iran did that with its direct and indirect agents in Iraq.” Parliament member Jamal Jaafir Mohammed Ali, known as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, was involved in discussions with the loose network of Shiites who had leadership cells on how to take on Sunnis: “How many people from Badr and the Mahdi Army to get into the police, how to do these extrajudicial killings, how to control mixed neighborhoods, how to target Baath Party operatives, they were networked, not following a central command.”
    Americans working at the Interior Ministry said it was a mess: one floor was full of Mahdi Army personnel, another was full of Badr. During the civil war, Land Cruiser SUVs from the Interior Ministry struck terror in people. They were nicknamed “Monikas” by Iraqis because of their wide ends, which reminded them of Monica Lewinski. The Mahdi Army used government Monikas, and people suspected that Jaafari gave Monikas to the militias.
    The battles in the historic town of Madain—once the site of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, two of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia—in 2005 were another turning point, where the tit-for-tat killing so familiar to urban Baghdad transformed into an open war between sectarian militias. Although the town had Shiites as well as Christians and members of the rare Sabean sect, which combines elements of Judaism and Christianity, it was a majority-Sunni town. Problems arose when about 150 Shiite families belonging to the southern Abu al-Aita tribe migrated north to the town, encamping in former military bases. These impoverished families were accused of looting, stealing, and wreaking havoc on the roads with their highway robbery. Resistance and insurgent groups that were trying to establish themselves as the local authorities soon clashed with the new Shiites. The insurgent groups also needed the roads unobstructed so that they could conduct their own attacks on coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. Among these insurgents were members of Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad groups, who brought with them foreign fighters. When the area fell under their control, unemployed youths swarmed to the insurgents. Salafi fighters started driving around the area in their pickup trucks, ordering all Shiites to leave the city.
    But in response the Interior Ministry’s Wolf Brigade took over a school and based themselves there, fighting with the insurgents and making mass arrests of Sunnis. The Wolf Brigade was later replaced by the Karar Brigade, a unit that was based in the Wasit province in the Shiite south. Because Madain was part of Baghdad province, locals viewed with suspicion these Interior Ministry forces from a different province. The name Karar refers to Imam Ali, whom the Shiites revere, and it was not chosen coincidentally. The Karar Brigade rounded up hundreds of Sunni men, and for the first time the new Iraqi Security Forces established a reign of terror ominously resembling Saddam’s methods. Some of the Sunnis arrested were shown on the popular Shiite show Terror in the Hands of Justice. When an elderly Sabean (and therefore non-Muslim) man was shown on that program confessing to raping and killing a young Shiite girl, Shiites attacked the home of his wife, Um Rasha, and threatened to rape her daughters.
    South of Baghdad, in Latifiya, similar battles were taking place. Although Latifiya was a quiet city in the year following the American invasion, its reputation took a turn for the worse after the attempted assassination of Ahmad Chalabi and the kidnapping of French journalists there in 2004. Latifiya was seized by Salafi extremists because it connected Baghdad to Falluja through hidden roads and dirt paths and because it allowed command of a crucial highway. The Mahdi Army, in response, commandeered police vehicles to attack suspected insurgents and Baathists, but these attacks expanded to include Salafis as well and even Sunnis merely suspected of being Salafis. Consequently Shiite families became victims of reprisals. The Albu Amir, or Al Amiri tribe, was one Shiite tribe well represented in Latifiya. Its most famous son was Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigade. A group of Sunni jihadis attacked a Shiite police officer from the tribe, killing him and his family, including his children. (The jihadis justified killing the children with a quote attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, calling for pulling the evil out by the roots. Since the jihadis viewed all Shiites as anti-Islam, they viewed their children as future enemies of Islam.) Members from the Al Amiri tribe responded immediately, attacking Sunnis they suspected were responsible, killing them and defiling their corpses, and burning some of them. The Sunni dead were members of several tribes, which retaliated by launching mortars at random Shiite houses. These battles lasted for more than a week, until the Sunni and Shiite tribes met for a reconciliation at which the Shiites settled the dispute by paying blood money to the Sunnis. Latifiya subsequently fell under the control of the Association of Muslim Scholars. When a Shiite contractor from Baghdad who worked with the Americans was assigned a project in Latifiya, he and his partners met with Association of Muslim Scholars leader Harith al-Dhari. They paid him tens of thousands of dollars to guarantee their security. As a result they were able to complete their contract in the otherwise dangerous region without attack.
    In August 2005 rumors of a bomb caused a panic stampede among Shiite pilgrims on the bridge linking Adhamiya and Kadhimiya. Up to one thousand people drowned or were crushed to death. Leading Supreme Council cleric Jalaluddin al-Saghir mourned the dead in his sermon the next Friday, calling them “beloved” and condemning the sort of jihad that targets innocent women and children engaged in worship. He also singled out the defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni, for allegedly letting criminals and Wahhabis infiltrate his ministry. Saghir said that the Interior Ministry—which was in the Shiite hands of the Supreme Council—should have been responsible for providing security for the area. Saghir did praise the people of neighboring majority-Sunni Adhamiya, however, for risking their lives to help save some of the drowning pilgrims. Leading Sunni cleric Ahmad Abdel Ghafur al-Samarai, of the Association of Muslim Scholars, speaking in Ghazaliya’s Um Al Qura Mosque, echoed Saghir’s praise for the bravery of Adhamiya’s Sunnis. But without naming sects, because that would have been bad form, he implicitly condemned the Shiite security forces for their “state terrorism” and execution of Sunnis while complaining that Sunnis were unfairly blamed for the Kadhimiya tragedy. He was followed by another cleric, who condemned the Supreme Council and Dawa for killing innocent people and pushing Iraq to civil war out of fear for their waning support on the Shiite street.
    By 2005 sectarian attacks and cleansing were increasing elsewhere in Iraq, too. Eleven Shiites from Najaf who worked as fishermen in Haditha were killed in mid-2005. More and more Shiites heading south to visit shrines were attacked, and passing through Latifiya was a nightmare for Shiite pilgrims. In December 2005 government troops intervened, attacking Sunnis and securing the road, but Shiites continued their exodus out of that troubled area, feeling threatened. The same trends were evident throughout much of Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Former high-ranking military officers, especially pilots, who fought in the eight-year war against Iran, were systematically assassinated. In August 2005 the Interior Ministry’s Volcano Brigade arrested several dozen Sunni men from the majority-Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Hurriya. Days later their tortured bodies were found far away, by the Iranian border. In September 2005 five Shiite schoolteachers and their driver were executed in Malha, a village next to Iskandariya. Their killers wore police uniforms. In October Mahdi Army men fought alongside the Interior Ministry in an attack on a Sunni town where some Shiites were being held.
    “Human rights departments” of various political parties produced tendentious and one-sided accounts of their victimization, and Iraqi and Arab satellite media magnified their effects. Sunnis despised the Supreme Council’s Badr Brigade because it had been based in Iran, but it was the more homegrown Mahdi Army that was primarily responsible for attacks against Sunnis. A Mahdi Army soldier confided, “We kill more Wahhabis than Badr does, and we throw their bodies in our city, but accusation’s finger points to Badr anyway.” Although the Interior Ministry was controlled by the Supreme Council, the police were outside the ministry’s control. With a small number of police cars, they could operate at night—past curfew, when only official cars were permitted—and enter Sunni neighborhoods with impunity to arrest or kill anyone they wanted. In Baghdad and much of Iraq, the police and the Mahdi Army were one and the same—as were the Iraqi army forces posted throughout the country. Iraqi police stations and army bases were decorated with Muqtada al-Sadr’s daunting visage, as were their vehicles. Even in the all-Sunni Anbar province, the Iraqi army was composed of Shiite supporters of Muqtada. In the spring of 2006, when Sunni soldiers from Anbar graduated as new members of the Iraqi army and were told they would serve among Shiites outside their home province, they rioted and tore off their uniforms. The Americans had established police forces in Anbar, composed of local Sunni men selected by their tribes. When I visited these police in the spring of 2006, they had not been paid in months because the Interior Ministry was not sending the money.
    The Mahdi Army’s sudden prowess was attributed to its recent cooperation with Lebanese Hizballah. Muqtada, who was modeling his army on Hizballah, had sent his senior men to Lebanon to make this possible. Mahdi Army men told me that the Lebanese trainers had come to them as well. To the Mahdi Army, the Association of Muslim Scholars were merely Salafis and Baathists in the attire of normal Sunni clerics; they presumptuously claimed that “they are not representing our Sunni brothers.” This gave them carte blanche to kill any Sunni they wanted. The Mahdi Army knew that the Sunni insurgency had coalesced, and Iraqi nationalist groups, including the Association of Muslim Scholars, began supporting Zarqawi’s attacks and providing his men with shelter. Zarqawi himself was said to have visited Harith al-Dhari’s village of Zawba several times.
    In late 2005 I returned to Amriya with my friend Hassan to break the Ramadan fast. We were joined by Sheikh Hussein of the Maluki Mosque. The conversation quickly turned to the deteriorating security situation, particularly for Sunnis. Gangs of Shiite killers, targeting radical Sunni clerics or former Baathists suspected of supporting the resistance, were penetrating Amriya. Sheikh Hussein, a Salafi with clear links to the resistance that dominated Amriya, had nearly been assassinated by Badr militiamen belonging to the Interior Ministry, who had arrived at his home in a police car. He had hidden in his home, and they missed him. He had only recently emerged from hiding. Noticing that his significant girth had increased, I asked him, “How did you hide? You’re not small.” He smiled and said, “We are all targets today.” Sheikh Hussein supported Sunni participation in the upcoming elections and agreed with the Sheikh Samarai’s fatwa urging them to join the security forces. He expressed concern that the “Arabs,” meaning foreign fighters, who wanted to fight until judgment day, would refuse to accept negotiations with the government and an eventual ceasefire.


    The December 2005 elections were hailed as a milestone for the Bush administration, but they further enshrined sectarianism in Iraq. Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, was the secular nationalist candidate. He fared even worse in these elections than he had the previous January. Other nonsectarian parties failed even to obtain one seat. Sunni participation proved that the resistance was disciplined and controlled by Iraqis: not only did members of the resistance refrain from attacking Sunni voters; in some cases they protected them, since they too viewed a large Sunni turnout as a key element in their struggle to obtain a larger Sunni role in the new Iraq.
    Fighting between Sunni militias and the Mahdi Army escalated, but war was never formally declared. One Mahdi Army soldier explained that “Wahhabis know we are killing them, otherwise they would not attack us back, but they have not declared war on us, because then all the Shiites of Iraq would be against them and they would lose.” In private conversations, Sunni insurgents and their leaders were seething about Muqtada and his Mahdi Army, claiming they were fighting to protect Iran and not out of Iraqi nationalism. But in public they hid their hostility to the Mahdi Army and instead accused the Badr Brigade of assassinating Sunnis.
    During the battles against coalition forces that began in April 2004, the Mahdi Army began forming into divisions and became more organized and hierarchical. Shaab was the neighborhood in Baghdad with the second-largest number of Mahdi Army fighters. When the fighting subsided, the Mahdi Army maintained its divisions and kept many of its guns and vehicles. Many Shiites were assassinated by Sunnis in Shaab, and Shiites retaliated in a tit-for-tat that foreshadowed what was to come. Although Shiites were the majority in Shaab, their operations targeting Sunnis were not well organized or coordinated, and were not launched by one specific group.
    Before the war, Shaab—and in particular its Ur neighborhood—had been dominated by anti-regime Sadrists. In the 1990s an Iranian agent called Abu Haidar al-Kheiqani had formed a secret armed opposition group along with a former Communist called Muayad al-Mundher. The two lived in Ur. They recruited a young friend called Haitham al-Khazraji, who would become known as Haitham al-Ansari. Haitham had a brother who was a low-level security officer in what was then known as Saddam City (later Sadr City). Haitham’s brother was known as Ali Mustache because of his big mustache and was in charge of arrests there.
    Abu Haidar asked Haitham to join the Sadrists in the hawza to act as a spotter and recruiter. Haitham joined and became a cleric, and helped build the Shurufi Mosque in Shaab. (My close friend Firas in Shaab would become Haitham’s assistant, driver, and bodyguard.) He issued fatwas in support of low-level acts of resistance. He would permit a car to be stolen if it was used against the regime. He would permit a woman to take off her hijab and sit in a car with a man who wasn’t her husband if it helped an anti-regime operation. One time, a female operative sat in a car with a male operative who pretended to be drunk; they got into a fake accident, ramming into an intelligence officer. In the fight that ensued, the officer was shot to death.
    Abu Haidar’s group is also said to have killed Haji Falah, the head of intelligence in Saddam City, and it was tied to the attempted assassination of Saddam’s son Uday. Haitham was said to be personally secular, but he saw religion as the only means to combat Saddam’s regime. In about 1998 the Baathists banned Friday prayers in Shurufi Mosque. A riot broke out, and two people were arrested. Others threw stones at security cars.
    In about 1998 Abu Haidar, Muayad, and Haitham were all arrested. Abu Haidar and Muayad were executed. Haitham convinced his interrogator, a Sunni from the Dulaimi tribe, that he was just a friend of the other two; he was released after he agreed to work for Iraqi security. But he fled to Jordan, where he became the caretaker for the Jaafar Al Tayar shrine in Karak, the main Shiite shrine in that country. He also sold trinkets on the street and was the only Shiite cleric in Jordan.
    In Jordan Haitham was recruited by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Haitham’s role for the INC was to recruit Sadrists. He told the INC that he would not engage in military operations for them, but he secretly involved himself in small-scale acts of sabotage, using the money the INC gave him, which in those three years was not more than thirty thousand dollars. He met officials from the American Defense Intelligence Agency, who sent Thoraya satellite phones to his network in Iraq in exchange for intelligence about the Iraqi Security Forces. Right before the war, Iraqi security realized that Haitham was running spies in Iraq and arrested and tortured some of his people. Nonetheless, Haitham had strong ambitions in the run-up to the U.S. invasion. He proposed moving his operations to western Iraq—principally the Anbar province—but CIA officials rejected this plan, because they had authorized that area for their own man, Ayad Allawi. On April 11, 2003, two days after Baghdad fell, Haitham returned to Ur, linking up with survivors of his network and the renascent Sadrist movement.
    Haitham didn’t respect Muqtada and the old guard, and at first he joined the ranks of Muqtada’s rival, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yaqoubi. But he was quickly disenchanted and soon rejoined Muqtada. All the while he was also collaborating with Chalabi’s INC. Haitham was friends with two other low-level Sadrists from Ur, Ali al-Lami and Jawad al-Bolani; he introduced them to Chalabi, giving their careers a huge boost.
    After the war Haitham set up the Tawhid (Unity) association in Ur. In its building Bolani and Lami had offices, as did a former anti-Saddam activist from the southern marshes named Karim Mahud al-Muhammadawi, known as Abu Hatem, or the prince of the marshes, who would go on to lead Iraqi Hizballah. The Tawhid association became an important center. Shiite politicians would visit it; even the American military came. People returned stolen goods to Tawhid, and it had a religious school for women.
    After I went over several hundred of the many thousands of documents I found in the looted security station in Baghdad (see chapter one), I gave them to my friend Firas, and he, in turn, gave them to the Tawhid. Firas drove Haitham to his weekly meetings with Chalabi in Mansour. Falah Hassan Shanshal, who would go on to head the Sadrist bloc of Parliament, would also come to the meetings. Haitham brokered a meeting in a Sadr City mosque between Muhammadawi, Lami, and Bolani. Muhammadawi was seeking local Baghdad representatives and had appointed Bolani and Lami as his local first and second deputies. When Chalabi asked his old friend Haitham to introduce him to local Shiite politicians who could reach into Shiite communities, Haitham introduced him to Lami and Bolani. Together they established an umbrella political group, the Shiite House. The Shiite House became the Shiite Political Council and eventually the Iraqi National Alliance, the main Shiite list in the elections. In late summer 2004, when the Iranians started working with the Sadrists, Haitham was invited to Iran. But the meeting was postponed, and he never made it.
    After the war, Sadrists took over a Baath Party office in Ur and turned it into a husseiniya (Shiite place of worship). It was originally controlled by Ayatollah Yaqoubi’s Fadhila organization. Haitham helped oversee the Mustafa Husseiniya, and when he fell out with Yaqoubi he transferred it to Muqtada’s followers. In the summer of 2004, Haitham helped establish a local death squad in the Mustafa Husseiniya. Its men targeted Wahhabis and “terrorists.”
    When the IGC set up its de-Baathification office, Muhammadawi appointed Lami the managing director of the archives department, which housed all the documents that contained background information on Baath Party suspects. (Bolani and Lami apparently despised each other and parted company.) When Chalabi suffered total defeat in the 2005 elections, he grew closer with Lami and grew to depend on him. Chalabi used Lami’s bodyguards because they had a fearsome reputation for their skill, and their special privileges allowed them to arrest anybody they accused of being a former Baathist.
    Chalabi and Lami visited Iran together often. Both men were sectarian and felt that Shiites had been deprived of their rights in the past. This time they would make sure Shiites took over. Lami became known as Ali Faisal and would run de-Baathification. He hated Baathists and bore a grudge against Sunnis because of his past as a poor Shiite from the slums of Ur. He had lists of Baathists he wanted to dismiss and was determined to purge the Shiite ex-Baathists who had been rehabilitated by the Supreme Council and were protected by it. Meanwhile, Bolani was working with Muhammadawi but looking for other jobs. For a man who would go on to accrue huge political power at the Interior Ministry, he didn’t seem to be picky then. He applied for a job as a flour mill manager, but Chalabi adopted Bolani and took him to Washington in 2004, thus giving him his international profile.
    On December 31, 2004, Haitham was killed near his house by a local Shaab terrorist group. Passions were further inflamed with the attempted assassination of Muhammadawi, whose car was shot at as he left the funeral.
    Muqtada’s deputy Sheikh Safaa al-Tamimi decided to avenge Haitham’s assassination and established a special assassination squad under his command. All his men belonged to the Mahdi Army, and all their targets belonged to the Salafi movement. A room inside the Mustafa Husseiniya was used for torturing suspects until they confessed. Confessions were filmed, and some included executions of prisoners who admitted to attacking Shiites or civilians. Only the prisoner was shown in the film, with the interrogator in the background calmly asking questions in a southern Iraqi accent (the same one common in Sadr City). Some films showed groups of prisoners sitting together. One such film showed the group that confessed to the murder of Haitham. These snuff films were kept in Sheikh Safaa’s possession and were not reproduced, saved as evidence that only people who deserved it were executed.
    Sheikh Safaa’s death squad was well armed, with grenades, grenade launchers, and Kalashnikovs. The soldiers of the group were selected by the sheikh for their physical strength or martial prowess. The group was supplied with many vehicles by supporters in Shaab. Having Mahdi Army friends in the Vehicle Registration Department made it easy for the group to replace their license plates. Their assassination campaign led to a massive clearance of Sunnis from Shaab, part of a deliberate strategy to cleanse the area of Mahdi Army enemies following two years of clashes with Salafis.
    Sheikh Safaa had final approval of all targets, who would then be tracked for a couple of days before their murder. When his men conducted operations and raids, they usually wore either all black or military uniforms. Sometimes they coordinated their operations with the Iraqi army. The group typically raided a target’s house at night, dragging him from bed, taking him to the mosque for interrogation, executing him, and then dumping the body on the outskirts of Sadr City in a place locally known as Al Sadda (The Dam), where there was a sand berm. Before these Shiite revenge attacks, radical Salafis had imposed their rule on much of Shaab, even killing barbers to prevent local citizens from having their beards shaved. In January 2006, one Mahdi Army soldier said, “We cleaned our city from all Wahhabis,” adding, “now we can live peacefully in Shaab.”
    At around the same time, Muqtada’s spokesman in Kadhimiya, Hazim al-Araji, condemned “terrorists” (his euphemism for Sunnis), but he also asserted that the American occupiers were allied with these “terrorists” against Shiites.

    BRUTAL AS THE American occupation was, it was also incompetent. The Americans never controlled much in Iraq. They could destroy, but they had trouble building. They allowed militias to take over Iraq and allowed the police, who should have been protecting civilians from the predations of militias, to become involved in the conflict as one of the main sectarian militias. And they either ignored it for the sake of expediency, as they did when they dealt with warlords in post-Taliban Afghanistan, or they were simply unaware. But there were exceptions, intelligent and sensitive officers who sensed what was happening and could see the sectarian catastrophe that the American invasion had unleashed.
    Phil Carter’s experience as a captain in the U.S. Army is a disturbing example of what was happening across Iraq. Carter served in Baquba, in the Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, between October 2005 and September 2006. As part of a team training and supervising the Iraqi police, he saw firsthand the results of that initial failure to build a professional culture within the Interior Ministry, which had become rife with cronyism and Shiite chauvinism. Thanks in part to the Sunni boycott of the elections, Shiites were overrepresented in Diyala, and the Supreme Council was very powerful. Carter’s team advised Diyala’s chief of police, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Adnan al-Bawi, who was an official with the Supreme Council’s Badr militia, and they operated closely with the governor, who was also a Badr official.
    “Al-Bawi was running Badr death-squad ops, even targeting other Shiites they had political beefs with,” Carter told me. “Badr death squads were doing targeted killings in houses and businesses. Good Shiite officers were sidelined. If they tried to take an initiative they would get fired or moved or, on a couple of occasions, killed.” The chief of the major crimes unit, Colonel Ali, was nicknamed “Cable Ali” by the Americans. “He was running a torture chamber. We found them, and we pushed to get him charged by the Ministry of Interior, and he was eventually arrested. But he was sprung by the police chief. We had gotten him fired a couple of times, but he was always reinstated. The rumor was that he was a CIA guy and a CIA source on intelligence.” When Carter first arrived, his predecessors told him that they had made a bargain with their colleagues from Diyala: “‘They’re thugs, but they’re our thugs. They keep order, just don’t ask questions.’ These guys were running their own little organized crime entity, selling fuel on the black market,” Carter observed. “There was graft of police funds, extortion. Sectarianism showed in who they picked for leaders and what neighborhoods they would neglect.” Even when they had evidence of misconduct, Carter and his men often felt powerless. “Iraqi detainees were tortured by Iraqi officers with power drills,” Carter said. They had cigarette burns and bruises on their backs. Every indicator was that they were picked up on a sweep and had done nothing wrong, just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and were Sunni. Carter wanted to make an example of one Iraqi army officer, but the Military Transition Team [MTT, pronounced “mitt”] with him was obstructive. They thought he was effective.
    In November 2005, Carter’s team got 200 reports of police abuse from families visiting detained relatives. Carter took the complaints to Bawi, the police chief. He said he would launch an investigation, promising to look into people who were obviously innocent. But what about guilty people? Carter retorted. They got what they deserved. Bawi said. He cited Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: “‘I only do what you do. You don’t understand, Captain Carter. You just got here.’”
    Between January and March 2006, just as IED attacks and ambushes were increasing in the wake of the Samarra bombings, the U.S. battalion in charge of Baquba decided to close the base in Baquba and move it to Camp Warhorse, on the edge of the city. “It was the height of strategic folly,” Carter complained. “At the moment things are getting worse, we pull back.”
    This pattern was repeated throughout Iraq as the Americans ceded territory to militias and the civil war intensified. Americans realized too late that their presence was provoking hostility, and removed their soldiers from the streets. But by then the occupation was second to the civil war.

    ON FEBRUARY 22, 2006, the Shiite Askari Shrine in Samarra was blown up. In the days that followed, more than 1,300 bodies were found in Baghdad, most of them Sunni. Once these figures were revealed, the Interior Ministry—whose forces were probably responsible for a large number of the killings—asked the Shiite-controlled Ministry of Health to cover them up. Shiites took over dozens of Sunni mosques and renamed them after the Samarra shrine. Shiite militias targeted the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Adhamiya with numerous mortars. Muqtada was said to have announced that “we have the legitimate cover to kill al-Nawasib,” a pejorative term for Sunnis.
    Sunni-controlled television stations in Iraq—such as Baghdad TV, controlled by the Iraqi Islamic Party—showed only Sunni victims of the retaliatory attacks. Shiite stations such as Al Furat and Al Iraqiya focused on the damaged shrine and Shiite victims. Al Furat was even more aggressive, encouraging Shiites to “stand up for their rights.”
    Following the attack Sunni militias faced the increased wrath of the Mahdi Army. Throughout Iraq Mahdi Army cadres flooded the streets, marching and chanting in unison. Sunni militias understand that the only militia in Iraq capable of defeating the Supreme Council’s Badr was the Mahdi Army, which is why they initially courted Muqtada and his men, who opposed Iranian intervention. This is also why Sunni militias hoped to establish a united front with the Mahdi Army against the Americans.
    Two days after the Samarra attack, Sheikh Yasser, a young Shiite sheikh in the Shuhada Al Taf Mosque, was passing by the Sunni Al Sajjad Mosque in the Maalif neighborhood. His car was stopped and searched by armed guards working for the mosque. The sheikh later informed the Mahdi Army, who controlled a mosque elsewhere in the neighborhood. Mahdi Army soldiers surrounded the Sajjad Mosque and searched it for explosives. Sunnis informed the media, and local stations claimed that the Mahdi Army had taken over the mosque. On the following Friday Sunnis asked for U.S. Army protection against possible Mahdi Army attacks during their Friday prayers. The Sajjad Mosque belonged to the extremist Ansar Sunnah group: it had celebrated two funerals for Iraqi Palestinian suicide bombers who were killed in late 2004 during operations against coalition forces, and it occasionally celebrated the graduation of children who memorized the Koran in ceremonies named after Al Qaeda videos such as Winds of Victory.
    Shortly after the Samarra attacks I spoke to a Shiite friend from Maalif. “The Mahdi Army is cleansing my neighborhood,” he said, “and they issued threats to many Sunni families forcing them to leave. They also killed many Sunnis. It started after the death of more than fifty civilians in the neighborhood in one day [mortar attacks from Gartan] and another sequence of explosions including two car bombs and several IEDs. The Sunnis in the neighborhood were about 40 percent, and now they are about 20 percent. Only Sunnis who are not involved in the insurgency or were not from the former regime did not receive threats, and so they did not leave the city. Rent prices for houses went down. Sunnis who have Shiite friends in other neighborhoods started switching their houses. Shiite families move to majority-Shiite neighborhoods, and Sunni families move to majority-Sunni neighborhoods. They exchange houses for free but with trust that they will get their houses back. This leads to changing the demography of every neighborhood.”
    Every morning in 2006 the streets of Baghdad were littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they were Sunni or Shiite. Power drills were an especially popular torture device. In the spring of 2006 I spent six weeks in Iraq and went through three different drivers. At various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning fourteen bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is an exclusively Sunni name. It was a message. In Baghdad those days nobody was more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands overlapping on their abdomens, right hand above left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a simple message: if you are Sunni, we will kill you. Sunnis and Shiites were obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias were stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya, or ID cards, of all passengers. Those belonging to Shiite tribes were executed.
    Following the January 2005 elections the Health and Transportation ministries were given to Sadr loyalists, who immediately started cleansing them of Sunnis and ideologically unsound Shiites. Sadrists instituted a program they called “cleaning the ministry from Saddamists.” Although not all Sunnis were targeted, many Sunnis felt that all Sunnis were being labeled Saddamists.
    In the Health Ministry pictures of Muqtada and his father were everywhere. Black banners for Shiite traditions were all over the walls, and Shiite traditional music played inside the ministry. Only people who supported the Sadr movement could join the ministry now. Doctors and ministry employees referred to the minister of health as imami, or “my imam,” as though he were a cleric. What Sunnis were left in the ministry worked only in Sunni areas where Shiites were afraid to visit. The Transportation Ministry was also controlled by clerics. Its walls were adorned with Shiite posters and banners as well as those supporting Muqtada specifically. Sunni engineers and staff were pushed out. As in the Health and Interior ministries, Shiites with no experience filled the ranks, the only qualification being an ideological one. In one case a Sunni chief engineer was fired and replaced with an unqualified Shiite who wore a cleric’s turban to work. This has led to a dramatic drop in efficiency, with ministries barely functioning. Kurdish-controlled offices also avoided hiring Sunni Arabs.
    Attacks increased throughout the country. In Kirkuk the Ahl Al Bayt Huseiniya was attacked by Sunni militiamen who blocked off the street with cars and killed at least two civilians. In the nearby village of Bashir, they attacked the Shiite Imam Ridha shrine. Officially, Muqtada opposed attacks on Sunnis, but he had unleashed his fighters on Sunnis. Sectarian and ethnic cleansing continued apace, with mixed neighborhoods being purified. In Amriya, dead bodies were being found on the main street at the rate of three a day. People were afraid to approach the bodies, or call for an ambulance or the police, because they would be found dead the following day. In Abu Ghraib, Dora, Amriya, and other mixed neighborhoods, Shiites were being forced to leave. In Maalif Sunnis were being targeted. In its statements the Association of Muslim Scholars referred to the police as “government police,” not the Iraqi police, because it viewed them as illegitimate, and it called the Mahdi Army the “black sectarians” because of their uniforms, or the “new sectarians.” Iraq was a divided country, even in its media. New channels such as Al Furat, which was controlled by the Supreme Council, and Sharqiya, which was controlled by former Baathist Saad Bazzaz, continued the wars fought on the street, inflaming people’s fears and hatreds. If Sunni and Shiite militias could not assassinate political figures, they often targeted the close relatives of judges, governors, ministers, and members of the national assembly.
    Shiite families fled Abu Ghraib, Al Taji, and Al Mashahada, moving into Shiite strongholds in Baghdad, such as Shuula, where Muqtada’s representatives took care of them. Shiites were still angry. “Destroying all Sunni mosques is still not equivalent to bombing the Askari shrine” was the dominant Shiite attitude in Baghdad. Hundreds of Shiite families from Sunni towns settled in Red Crescent-run refugee camps near Kut. The United States constantly shifted its support back and forth between Sunnis and Shiites, calling on Shiites to rein in their militias, a key Sunni demand, while conducting massive and lethal raids on the Sunni population—alienating everyone in Iraq but the Kurds.
    In February 2006 the National Accord Front—the largest Sunni coalition, with forty-four seats in the new Parliament—threatened to begin civil disobedience if attacks and arrests targeting Sunnis were not halted. In areas where Shiites were the minority, they feared the mulathamin (masked ones), referring to the Sunni militias who covered their faces with their head scarves. Sunnis, in turn, feared “interior,” a reference to the Interior Ministry, or “the black sectarians” of the Mahdi Army.

    THE CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ was a victory of the slum over the city, or the periphery over the center. The Kurds, the Shiites, and even the Sunnis of the center were marginalized or killed. For the Sunnis, for example, it was the Anbar Sunni—more rural, more tribal—who briefly rose to prominence in 2007. In Kurdistan, the pesh merga and the Kurds of the mountains have prevailed. Under Saddam there were many pro-regime, Arabic-speaking, Iraqified Kurds living in Baghdad and Mosul. They have been pushed into Kurdistan.
    For those who resisted having to choose a sectarian identity, there were few choices except exile. The integrated Iraqis had been Saddam’s citizens; they were his middle class, his urban dream, and they lived in the heart of the state. Many were state employees under the direct control of the state. They were of the state’s making, and they have died with the state. Millions of Iraqis have left Iraq. More than two million Iraqis had fled before the war, in the 1990s, when the UN-imposed sanctions destroyed Saddam’s allies and his urban middle-class technocrats. Millions more have fled their homes since the war began, most of them from the mixed areas of Iraq. Many have been expelled from their urban homes by the sectarian militias who descended from the mountains, the desert, the marshes, the slums.


    ON MARCH 26, 2006, AMERICAN AND IRAQI FORCES RAIDED THE Mustafa Husseiniya, the small but locally well-known Shiite gathering place and place of worship in eastern Baghdad’s Ur neighborhood, adjoining the larger Shaab district. Sixteen to eighteen people were killed in the raid. A U.S. military statement issued later that day claimed that “Iraqi Special Operations Forces conducted a twilight raid in the Adhamiyah neighborhood in northeast Baghdad to disrupt a terrorist cell responsible for conducting attacks on Iraqi security and coalition forces and kidnapping Iraqi civilians,” adding that “no mosques were entered or damaged,” that the operation was conducted at dusk to “ensure no civilians were in the area and to minimize the possibility of collateral damage,” and that U.S. forces were only advising the Iraqi soldiers who conducted the raid. Some accounts claimed that American and Iraqi soldiers had been pursuing a suspect who fled to the mosque. They were fired upon and returned fire, killing sixteen “insurgents” and arresting fifteen others. It was also claimed they rescued a hostage. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa Party angrily complained that the sixteen dead had been inside a mosque. Nuri al-Maliki, who had succeeded Jaafari as prime minister, was interviewed on Iraqi state television. “This was a hostile attack intended to destroy the political process and provoke a civil war,” he said. He blamed the American military and American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
    I visited the Mustafa Husseiniya the day after the raid. I arranged to meet an old friend Firas from Shaab who was a friend of Sheikh Safaa al-Tamimi of the Mustafa Husseiniya. We drove into Shaab and into a long convoy of Mahdi Army pickup trucks and minibuses waving flags and machine guns. Shaab had deteriorated since my previous trip a few months earlier. After the recent Samarra explosions, three Sunni mosques in Shaab had been burned. The siege there was palpable. There were several hundred Mahdi Army fighters, and among the convoy were also blue-and-white Iraqi police pickup trucks. After we passed a police checkpoint, a white civilian car began to follow us. My driver gestured with his head at the rearview mirror to let me know. Suddenly he made a U-turn and squeezed into traffic going in the opposite direction, losing them. We met Firas on the side of the road far from the husseiniya. He would act as if he did not know me when we met at the mosque because it could be dangerous for him if people in Shaab knew he had foreign friends. He was himself a journalist and a close confidant of Sheikh Safaa, and had asked the sheikh to guarantee my safety. He wore a black suit and dark shirt with no tie and leather shoes. He had an informal intelligence-gathering capacity in the neighborhood.
    Three years earlier I had shared with Firas the thousands of Baathist security files I found in the abandoned and looted general security office. These files contained the day-to-day operations of Saddam’s dictatorship and revealed the names of Baathist collaborators and spies. I felt that they were Iraqi patrimony and that I should hand them over to some Iraqi movement. Firas gave them all to the Tawhid association, and I never got them back. I now know from other friends that my files were used to compile hit lists by Shiite militias in Shaab and that Firas was involved in this. I never asked him directly. He had told Sheikh Safaa about me, and the sheikh was expecting me, but Firas warned me once more to pretend I didn’t know him.
    It was immediately apparent that the raid had targeted the husseiniya, which strictly speaking was not a mosque but had the same function as one and even had a minaret with loud speakers on its top to broadcast the calls to prayer. Moreover, the husseiniya was not located in the Adhamiya neighborhood, contrary to the coalition press statement. Adhamiya is a Sunni bastion not far from Shaab, but the two neighborhoods are worlds apart. Could the Americans have confused the most heavily Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad with a Shiite stronghold? Could they have confused Muqtada’s Shiite militia with a terrorist cell? Before the war the Mustafa Husseiniya had been a Baath Party office. Like other political movements, Muqtada’s had seized many Baath Party buildings following the war. Some former Baath Party buildings even had domes now.
    A large sign in front of the Mustafa Husseiniya bore the faces of Muqtada’s father and local Mahdi Army martyrs. Black banners hung on the wall with Arabic letters in white, red, green, and yellow. “We express condolences to the Mahdi and the whole Islamic nation for the disaster of the martyrdom of the brother believers and the attacks on them in the Mustafa Husseiniya at the hands of the takfiris backed by the occupation forces.” Other banners echoed this: “The massacre of the Mustafa Husseiniya was done by the Wahhabis with the help of the Americans.” Another said that the massacre had been committed by “the forces of darkness with the help of the forces of occupation.”
    The large lot before the husseiniya was blocked off by concrete traffic barriers. A large black chadir (a round tent used for mourning) was erected in it. Big red-and-green flags waved from above it. Rows of plastic chairs were lined up, and several turbaned clerics sat talking. It was customary to enter on the right side and shake the hands of all present, wishing peace upon them one by one until the end. Then the visitor would sit down and ask God to have mercy on the one who would read the Fatiha, the first verse of the Koran. Then everyone would recite the Fatiha seated except for the relatives of the deceased, who would say it standing. Following the recital, the men would all wipe their hands down their faces.
    A banner on one of the concrete barriers announced, “The followers of the family of the Prophet Muhammad understand this: the money of the Saudis and the hatred of the Americans and the ugliness and the barbarism of the Wahhabis and the cowardice of the political Shiite leaders equals the slaughter of the Shiites of Ali, the commander of the faithful.” Beside the banner was a picture of Ayatollah Sistani and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. In front of the husseiniya was a small stand on which a pot of tea was boiling. I was offered a small glass of the very sweet and strong tea popular in Iraq, always poured into glasses that taper inward gracefully. Glasses were then rinsed in a bowl of water and reused. I was carrying a film camera with me but was warned not to film the many armed men who stood outside, slinging Kalashnikovs casually. The young men guarding the mosque welcomed me and gave me a tour of the wreckage. Firas was there too, and he introduced himself to me to maintain the charade.
    They pointed to an exploded wall and a pile of rubble that had been the imam’s home (imams often live on the premises or in a house attached to the mosque). The men explained that an American Apache helicopter had fired a missile at it and destroyed it. They had collected all the shrapnel to prove it, along with numerous shell casings from American M-16s. Three blackened cars sat inside the courtyard. I was told they belonged to people praying in the mosque and had been parked outside but that the Americans had burned them and then dragged them inside the husseiniya. Against one wall was a large picture of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr and Sheikh Haitham al-Ansari, Shaab’s murdered cleric. I asked one of my guides, the caretaker Abul Hassan, who wore a black dishdasha with white trousers beneath it, why the Americans had come. “By God I don’t know,” he said. “We were surprised by their raid.” He attributed it to political pressure on the Sadr movement.
    Brownish red blood smeared the courtyard, where bodies had been dragged. “They killed people praying, innocent people,” the caretaker said. “One of the people praying was shot here,” he pointed, “and dragged all the way here.” He pointed to a room, “and one was shot here.” He showed me dried pools of blood and pointed to the ceiling, where blood and pieces of flesh had splattered from somebody’s head. “They brought four here—one of them was fourteen.” He gestured to another room: “There were five martyrs in that room.” The men were just as concerned with the posters, which had been cut or torn. Adjacent to the husseiniya were several rooms that had been given to the Dawa Party-Iraq organization. This was not Prime Minister Jaafari’s party but a rival branch (there are three), which had been exiled in Iran. Inside the offices, blood covered plastic chairs and the floor. Political posters covered the walls featuring the first and second Sadr martyrs. “Here they killed one,” my guides told me, pointing to more blood. They showed me the jinsiya (ID cards) of the three martyrs from the Dawa office. In one of the Dawa rooms they pointed out a vast pool of blood with white pieces of brain stuck in it. The men pointed to more blood. “Torture, you understand? Torture,” one man told me. A book written by Muhamad Sadiq al-Sadr was covered in blood. A poster of Jaafari had black ink scribbled on his face. In the room where ceremonial drums and chains were stored, drums had been torn, pictures torn off.
    Sheikh Safaa stood in the courtyard by his destroyed home, pacing back and forth while talking on his mobile phone. When he got off, Firas and several other young men surrounded him to consult as I waited. I recognized another one of them, a young man also wearing a black suit and black shirt with no tie, and black leather shoes. He worked for the state de-Baathification committee but was close to the Sadrists and passed information about Baathists along to the Mahdi Army.
    Sheikh Safaa spoke to me inside the prayer room. It had a green carpet and a shiny model of the shrine in Najaf. On its walls were verses from the Koran about Judgment Day and a picture of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr and Muqtada. Sheikh Safaa looked extremely young; his stylistically groomed beard was still not fully mature. He was very thin, with a long narrow nose. He wore modern wire-framed glasses and had a white imama (turban) balanced on his ears. As we spoke he held his mobile phone and prayer beads in one hand, gesticulating with the other.
    He confirmed that the husseiniya belonged to the Office of the Martyr Sadr, which had permitted the Dawa Party to use some rooms as an office. “They are old people, and they are even not capable of carrying a weapon,” he said. “The American forces denied that they attacked the husseiniya. They said they just attacked the Dawa office, but it was a lie. The truth is, they entered both the Dawa office and the Mustafa Husseiniya, and they killed in a very barbaric way . . . and nobody expected the Americans would do that, especially those who saw films about freedom, about America.”
    The young Sheikh Safaa also thought the raid was meant to send a political message. “After the Samarra bombing,” he explained, “the Americans started escalating political pressure against Jaafari and other Shiites to prevent Jaafari from being the prime minister, because he doesn’t look after their interests. They think that Jaafari is the closest man to the Sadr Current, and they don’t like the Sadr Current to have a friend in the prime minister’s position.”
    Sheikh Safaa warned that his people were irate. “I have seen the feelings of the people in the last few days,” he said. “They were very upset from the presence of the occupation. One of the demands put forth by the Sadr Current was that the occupation forces apologize and compensate the families of the victims. America should not kill and compensate. We don’t want your compensation; just stop killing. Why do you kill and then compensate? People from different ages and backgrounds were killed in this mosque. Not everyone was a soldier in the Mahdi Army. There were old people from the Dawa Party and visitors to the Dawa Party and people praying. That’s why the people in Shaab City are very angry. So the condition was not to let America go inside Shaab City again. We witnessed an American aggression, and maybe with the hands of Iraqis who work with the occupation forces.”
    The sheikh had been present for the raid. “We were surprised at six o’clock, which is half an hour before the prayer, by a large number of Humvees and another kind of wheeled armored vehicle,” he said. “Their entrance was silent. They surrounded the husseiniya from everywhere. They started firing random heavy shots. It didn’t have the sound of a Kalashnikov and classic light weapons. The major sound was the dushka and a heavy belt-fed machine gun. They also used bombs and grenades to attack the husseiniya.” I was impressed by his detailed knowledge of weapons. “They came in a very ugly and barbaric way, and they were very quick,” he continued. “People tried to run away and go out of the building. Because I am the imam of the mosque I have a family in my house, so I was busy taking my family outside. I have four children, and they were very scared. Until now the condition of the children is not stable. My mother is still not stable. We took her from the hospital yesterday, because of the heavy sound of the bullets and bombs.”
    On the evening of the raid, he said, “many infantry soldiers entered the building. They started shooting. A lot of the brothers were injured. They took them to a single place and grouped them together and executed them. One of them had a black band on his forehead because he was a sayyid. He was the one who got the most number of bullets in his body. He lost all of his brain outside his head, and I think you have already seen his brain. They went inside the shrine with a grenade, which injured a lot of people who were praying at that time. The mosque should be a place for people who want to feel safe and secure. When the occupier came to this country, we lost the security, and security is one of the most important favors that God gives to us. It’s true that there was a strong oppression on Iraqis from the former regime. America came to Iraq proclaiming its liberation, and freedom and democracy and pluralism, but America proclaimed one thing and we saw something else. We saw freedom, but it is the freedom of tanks and democracy of Hummers, and instead of multiparties we saw multiple killings of people in a variety of ugly ways.”
    But the Americans did not just kill people at the husseiniya; they also tortured the men and looted the area. “One was injured with bullets and killed with knives,” Sheikh Safaa said. “More than one body was tortured, his eyes were taken out, and we saw them naked after death. Some of them were very old men. The Americans stole all the light weapons: one pistol and two or three guns. Also they stole money and the two computers. They destroyed everything, broke glass, and the religious school for women. Then they blew up the cars and there was more heavy shooting.”
    After I left Sheikh Safaa asked Firas if I was “clean”—meaning, was I to be trusted—so that he could be sure of protecting me in the event someone tried to intercept me as I made my way home. His assistant, Abu Hassan, asked Safaa the same thing about me.
    That Thursday, March 30, after I visited Humineya, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for Multinational Forces-Iraq, gave his weekly press briefing in the Coalition Press Information Center. He stood before American and Iraqi flags wearing pressed fatigues with two stars on his collars. His face remained without expression or emotion, and he spoke in a clipped, rapid-fire style, not in sentences. As he listed his ideas, which he kept simple and repeated, his hands sliced the air to emphasize points in rhythm with his words.
    “Our operations continue across Iraq towards the identified end state,” Lynch said. “An Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors and is an ally in the war on terrorism, that has a representative government and respects the human rights of all Iraqis, that has security forces that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. Now we’re making progress there every day.” He explained that attacks against the coalition forces were concentrated in three provinces: Baghdad, Anbar, and Salah Al-Din. He didn’t say that these areas were where U.S. troops were concentrated and where some of the biggest cities were located. “The enemy,” he said, “specifically the terrorists and foreign fighters, specifically Al Qaeda in Iraq, the face of which is Zarqawi, is now specifically targeting Iraqi security force members and Iraqi police. In fact, the number of attacks against Iraqi Security Forces has increased 35 percent in the last four weeks compared with the previous six months.” General Lynch told the story of Sunni recruits who joined the army even after some recruits had been killed in a suicide bombing. “If that’s not a testimony to the courage and conviction of the Iraqi people, I don’t know what is. They’re united against Zarqawi. As we’ve talked about before, counterinsurgency operations average nine years. The people who will win this counterinsurgency battle against Zarqawi and Al Qaeda in Iraq are the Iraqi people. And indications like that show their courage and their convictions and their commitment to a democratic future. Amazing story.”
    He switched slides to a satellite image showing the Mustafa Husseiniya but calling it “Tgt Complex.” Several blocks away was a building the slide described as the Ibrahim Al Khalil Mosque, and even farther away was a building incorrectly identified as the Al Mustafa Mosque. “Last Sunday,” he began, “Iraqi special operations forces had indications that a kidnapping cell was working out of this target complex.” He pointed to the satellite image. “This was led, planned, and executed by Iraqi special operations forces, based on detailed intelligence that a kidnapping cell was occupying this complex.” He pointed at the husseiniya again. “The operation consisted of about fifty members of Iraqi special operations forces and about twenty-five U.S. advisers. The U.S. advisers there purely in an advisory role. They did none of the fighting. There wasn’t a shot fired by U.S. service members during conduct of this operation. They surveyed the battlefield in advance, looking for sensitive areas, and they said, Okay, there are mosques in the area, but the nearest mosque is about six blocks from the target complex, so the decision was made to do the operation, focused on this kidnapping cell, and try to rescue a hostage, an Iraqi hostage. Operation planned, led, and executed by Iraqi special operations forces. They got in the area with their vehicles. They immediately started taking fire, from this complex,” he said, pointing again to the map. “Now remember, many buildings in that compound and many rooms in the building. They took fire right away, they returned fire.” Once inside, “they had additional gunfire exchange.”
    I remembered my visit. There were no signs of any gun battle or any fire coming from inside the husseiniya—no random bullet holes, no Kalashnikov shells (although they could have been picked up). The entire affair had seemed very one-sided.
    “All told,” Lynch continued, “sixteen insurgents were killed, eighteen were detained. We found over thirty-two weapons, and we found the hostage, the innocent Iraqi, who just twelve hours before was walking the streets of Baghdad. He was walking the streets of Baghdad en route to a hospital to visit his brother, who had gunshot wounds. He was kidnapped and beaten in the car en route to this complex.” He pointed to the Mustafa Husseiniya again. “When he got there, they emptied his pockets. They took out his wallet, and in the wallet was a picture of his daughter. He asked for one thing. He said, ‘Please, before you kill me, allow me to kiss the picture of my daughter. That’s all I ask.’ The kidnappers told him, ‘Hey, we gotcha, and if we don’t get twenty thousand dollars sometime soon, you’re dead.’ And they showed him the bare electrical wires that they were gonna use to torture him, and then kill him, and they said, ‘We’re gonna go away and do some drugs, and when we come back, we’re gonna kill you.’ He was beaten. He was tortured. He was tortured with an electrical drill. Twelve hours after he was kidnapped, he was rescued by this Iraqi special operations forces rescue unit. He is indeed most grateful. He is most grateful to be alive, and he is most grateful to the Iraqi special operations forces. The closest mosque was six blocks away. When they got close to the compound, they took fire, and they returned fire. When they got inside the rooms, a room in this compound, they realized this could have been a ‘husenaya,’ a prayer room. They saw a prayer rug. They saw a minaret. They didn’t know about that in advance, but from that room, and from that compound, they were taking fire. In that room, and in that compound, the enemy was holding a hostage, and torturing a hostage. And in that room, and in that compound, they were storing weapons, munitions, and IED explosive devices. Very, very effective operation, planned and executed by Iraqi special operations forces.”
    When asked who the enemy the previous Sunday might have been, Lynch responded that “we had no indication, no specific indication, what group these people came from. This was clearly a kidnapping cell that we’d watched for a period of time. There were indications that it was an active cell, and that’s why the operation was planned by the members of the Iraqi special operations forces. Now, I can’t tell you which particular unit or if they were from the Mahdi militia. I don’t know. . . . Extremists, terrorists, criminals—it’s all intertwined. We have reason to believe, and evidence to support, that the terrorists and foreign fighters are indeed using kidnapping as a way to finance their operations. And the story that I told about Sunday night’s kidnapping could be told many more times.”
    The news of the American raid was—for once—greeted with delight by Sunnis, who were used to seeing Shiites celebrating when the Americans hit Sunni targets. But what really happened at the husseiniya? There was indeed a Sunni prisoner in the Mustafa Husseiniya, the last suspect in the killing of Haitham al-Ansari (see previous chapter). Half the Mustafa Husseiniya was controlled by the Sadrist hawza, with Sheikh Safaa as the spiritual leader. The other half was controlled by a man named Abu Sara, who led a Mahdi Army death squad known as a “special group.” Abu Sara was an ex-Baathist and ex-member of Saddam’s fedayeen militia. Safaa hated him, my friend Firas told me, because he was against armed men coming to the mosque. When the Americans struck just before the evening prayer, Abu Sara and his men had not yet arrived; they were still on their way to pray. The Americans killed ten people inside and seven outside, but they were innocent. They released the suspected Sunni killer, and he fled to Syria.
    The Americans called the raid Operation Valhalla. It was conducted by the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), commanded by Lieut. Col. Sean Swindell and an Iraqi Special Forces unit they were training. The target was one individual who left shortly before the soldiers arrived, though I was never able to confirm what he was suspected of doing. “We came under fire and at that time had to protect ourselves,” an American participant told me. “Iraqi Special Operations forces and U.S. adviser forces, as we got to the area, came under intense fire from all directions, including within the husseiniya. We assaulted and searched the targeted area. We stumbled upon the Sunni prisoner by accident during the course of the operation. There was one hostage rescued. He stayed with us for a number of months doing small work because he was extremely scared for his life.”
    One Iraqi Special Operations soldier was wounded. After the raid a senior sheikh from Ur came to complain about the raid to the Americans, along with three or four young “henchmen” of his. “He was one very bad guy,” said the American who took part in the raid. “One henchman asked why we were shooting at certain buildings. We showed him we were taking heavy fire from the husseiniya. He said they were not shooting at us but at the helicopters.” I asked the American soldier which group they were targeting. “We did not make the distinction. Bad guys were bad guys. The sheikh and his henchmen received the same briefing that was given to the prime minister and agreed with everything we presented. They were impressed with what we knew and acted on.”
    The Americans insisted that immediately after the battle the dead bodies were removed from the husseiniya along with their weapons so that it would appear to be a one-sided attack on men in a mosque. The Americans say they conducted an investigation and that the unit effectively halted operations for a month. Some of the men in the unit had cameras on their helmets, which apparently corroborated their versions in the investigation and contrasted with the version presented by reporters on the scene.
    The next day, March 31, I returned to the Mustafa Husseiniya for Friday prayers. The neighborhood was shut down. Roads were blocked with tree trunks, trucks, and motorcycles. Mahdi Army militiamen sat on chairs on the main road asking for IDs and observing the men slowly walking in the sun to the noon prayer. The militiamen, most of whom were in their twenties and thirties, sported carefully groomed beards. Some wore all black; others wore cotton shirts that said “Mahdi Army” and named their unit within the militia. Some wore Iraqi police-issued bulletproof vests, and many carried police-issued Glock pistols and handcuffs at their sides. They were off-duty policemen.
    By the time I arrived, thousands of people were seated in the bright sun. They wore sweatpants or dishdashas, and many of the older men had head scarves on their heads. Plastic, rubber, and leather slippers and shoes lined the street. As the men assembled, they stopped by wooden boxes to pick up a torba, a medallion-shaped piece of earth from Karbala upon which their foreheads would rest when they bowed to the ground. When they found an empty spot on the street, they opened their prayer rug, placing the torba at the front edge.
    A wooden pulpit was set up across from the Husseiniya. Behind it a large truck was parked. It was covered in a green cloth, and a large painting of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr stood on its bed. Mahdi Army men patrolled the street and stood atop the husseiniya and on the rooftops of neighboring buildings, pacing back and forth, silhouetted against the bright sky. In the front row sat dignitaries such as Sadrist National Assembly member Fattah al-Sheikh and key clerics from the movement like Abdul Hadi al-Daraji. Hundreds of men brought umbrellas with them to provide some shelter from the sun. Young men in baseball caps with exterminator packs on their backs walked through the crowd spraying people with rose water to cool them off. Loudspeakers on the road facing different directions blasted the call to prayer.
    As the call ended, a man stood up to yell a hossa. “Damn Wahhabism and Takfirism and Saddamism and Judaism, and pray for Muhammad!” The crowd yelled back, “Our God prays for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad!” They shook their fists, “And speed the Mahdi’s return! And damn his enemies!” Sheikh Hussein al-Assadi stood up behind the pulpit, wearing a white turban and white shroud to show he was prepared for martyrdom. “Peace be upon you,” he greeted the crowd. “And upon you peace and the mercy of God and his blessings,” the crowd murmured back. Some in the crowd filmed the sermon on their mobile phones.
    “I ask everybody to sit down except those who are on duty,” he said, referring to the militiamen providing security. “Before I begin I want to express my sympathy to Muhammad and all the imams, especially the Mahdi, for the martyrs of the Mustafa Husseiniya.” They had been martyred by international Zionism, world imperialism, and the American occupation, his angry voice echoed against the city’s walls. “We demand that the Iraqi government expel the Zionist American ambassador from Iraq and do not accept any apology from him. . . . We demand the release of all the prisoners of the outspoken hawza,” he said, along with the prisoners “who survived the Zionist massacre,” as he called the raid. He demanded that an Iraqi court supervised by the clergy try the perpetrators of the Mustafa Husseiniya attack. He demanded that occupation forces be prohibited from entering eastern Baghdad at any time. He rejected any need to investigate the attack. It was as clear as the murder of Hussein, he said. He complained that Shiites were still waiting for the results of the investigations of the Kadhimiya bridge disaster, the Samarra and Karbala explosions, and other massacres Shiites had faced. “We demand the execution of the Wahhabi American takfiris who were arrested and confessed in front of all who saw them,” he said. He blamed the Americans for killing Sunnis and throwing bodies in the Sadda area near Sadr City to ruin the city’s reputation and blame its residents for committing crimes. “The American Zionist forces have declared that they have handed the security file to the Iraqi government,” he said, “so what is the reason to violate this and attack the holy mosque of God?” The American and Iraqi governments had negotiated agreements without Parliament’s review; he demanded that the Iraqi people be told what they were. He demanded that the Iraqi Security Forces declare whether they “work with the American forces against unarmed Iraqis or for Iraq?”
    A man in the crowd shouted a hossa. “As we learned from the second Sadr, history will be written with the blood of the pious, not the silence of the fearful!” The crowd shouted, “Our God prays for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad! And speed the Mahdi’s return and damn his enemies!”
    The sheikh continued. “We ask God to support the outspoken hawza of mujahideen and the heroes of the Mahdi Army against the enemies of Islam, and to keep the Friday prayer going and to be a fork in the eye of the enemy America and especially Israel.”
    People ask why the outspoken hawza was silent, he said. “But this is the silence before the storm,” he answered, warning the Americans and Zionists that he knew what they wanted to do to Muslims. “We already know very well, and I thank God for that. We already know what is going on in the dirty minds of the monkey infidels. They have a conspiracy against Islam and Muslims.”
    America “brought war to the Iraqi people and ended the wars with sanctions, it was trying to make Muslims hungry. . . . Today it slaughters our sons, and it has started doing the same things Saddam did, and this is exactly the same way Saddam killed us, and George Bush the Cursed said he came to get rid of Saddam’s killings but instead he brought Israel’s killings, and they started doing it themselves in the holiest places in Iraq, and it’s only because they have hated Islam since the beginning and they hate the prayer because it is the way of communication between the servant and his lord, and they are trying to kill the belief.” What was the difference, he asked, between Saddam’s massacres of Shiites in mosques and the American raid on the Mustafa Husseiniya?
    The spirits of the martyrs demanded that those responsible for the massacre at the Mustafa Husseiniya be exposed. The Zionists were killing and torturing injured Iraq, he said, but members of the government were too busy stealing and enriching themselves and were too afraid to lose their positions to speak the truth, as was the clergy. He asked the crowd of thousands to shout “We will never be oppressed!” and they thundered in response. Only the outspoken hawza of the mujahideen represented the voice of the Prophet Muhammad and his family, and they were the voice of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. The jihad being waged by Muqtada’s hawza was the Mahdi’s jihad, and nobody could defeat them. “And today the outspoken hawza promises the martyrs that were killed in Iraq by the hands of the Zionist takfiris that we will return their aggression with a thousand aggressions. And we will step on the face of the Zionist ambassador if he stays in Iraq, and we will do that with our heroes of the Mahdi Army, and we will break all the legs that carried aggression on the houses of God and shed the blood of our brothers, and if the government is unable to prosecute the criminals in front of all people, then we will apply justice ourselves as much as we can, and the battalions of the Mahdi Army will never be handcuffed in case the government suspends their case, just like all the other suspended cases, like the massacres of Karbala and Kadhimiya and the destruction of the domes of the two imams in Samarra and other shedding of believers’ blood. . . . The government should not put their hands in the hands of those who killed us, and we want them to prove their Iraqi identity and Islamic identity, and we want them to release our prisoners, or an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
    As the streets of Ur and Shaab filled with thousands of men indolently strolling home in the heat or heading to minibuses and trucks to depart, across town, in the western neighborhood of Ghazaliya, prayer was also ending, and several hundred Sunni men were leaving the Um Al Qura Mosque, which had once been so central to the resistance. It had once been a symbol of Sunni domination; now it was a symbol of vulnerability and fear. Gruesome posters lined the mosque’s walls, depicting slain members of the Association and other murdered Sunnis. “Our martyrs are twinkling stars in the Iraqi sky,” said one, while others showing dead bodies demanded “yes to the state of law,” “no to organized government terrorism,” “no to endless sinning,” and lamented what they described as a “massacre of freedom,” and “massacre of seven innocent men.” I was stunned by the shift in tone.
    A few days later, on April 4, 2006, I was back at the Um Al Qura Mosque, waiting in the sun after a friend who moonlighted for the Association of Muslim Scholars told me the bodies of Sunnis slain in sectarian violence were coming from the morgue. In front of the Um Al Qura Mosque, Iraqi National Guardsmen manned their machine guns on a pickup truck. Ghazaliya had long been one of Baghdad’s main no-go zones for foreigners, journalists, and even many Iraqis. When American or Iraqi army or police forces were not looking, Sunni militias openly patrolled its streets and stopped cars at checkpoints to look for suspicious outsiders. Shiites living in Ghazaliya had been receiving death threats, if they were lucky, warning them to leave the neighborhood. As I stood in the parking lot with a few Iraqi cameramen working for local and international media, I could hear exchanges of fire in the distance; later I saw American Humvees and Iraqi police in pickup trucks circling the mosque.
    Finally we heard the sounds of wailing coming from the mosque’s gate. Two trucks accompanied by men on foot made their way to the mosque. The men were crying and beating themselves, stopping to collapse on the ground or raise their arms in desperation, then shouting, “There is no god but Allah!” Their screams competing with one another, they cursed the killers. “Faggots!” “Brothers of whores!” they shouted. “This is a disaster! What did they do?”
    “We are almost extinct! They broke our backs!” “The pimps! The bastards! The infidels!” I asked one of the men to tell me what had happened. “They took them in the south from their shops. They took them to an office, and then they took their car. We found them yesterday in the fridge in the morgue. They live in Ghazaliya. Four brothers. And two were father and son!” he began crying again.
    An older man wearing tribal clothes and hiding his face with his head scarf shouted, “This is an Iranian wave, arranged by Iran. We are Muslims, and this is our country. Why are they doing this to us? And they are saying, ‘We are the Mahdi Army.’ Did the Mahdi tell them to do that? One of them is only twelve years old!” He explained that the dead were Sunni shopkeepers. “They took them to Kut, and they executed them. In the Jihad district they killed fifty-seven people. They arrested them and executed them. Everywhere they kill Sunnis.” He added that when relatives came to pick up their bodies from the morgue, they too were kidnapped.
    The trucks stopped at the mosque’s steps. The rugs were removed from on top of them, and the wooden coffins were placed on the ground, their covers pulled to the side, revealing bodies hidden by plastic. “Open the bags so they can see,” one man said. “This one is only ten years old,” cried a man. “They killed him by strangling. This is a kid. Should he be strangled? Look at him. Open the bag, let them see!” The boy did indeed look about ten, his face swollen and eyes closed, thick stitches lining his chest.
    They opened another coffin. “This one was tortured before killing!” one man shouted. “Look at his teeth. They pulled out his teeth! He was helping his father. Why did they do that to him? Is it only because they are Sunnis?” he raised his hands up and shouted, “Allahu akbar!” (God is great!) I looked at the corpse’s bruised face: a middle-aged man missing some of his front teeth. “God curse the oppressors!” the mourners shouted, embracing the coffins and corpses. “Even Jews wouldn’t do this!” shouted one man. “They say that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, so how do you explain this?”
    Then somebody decided the show was over. The coffins were placed on the trucks and driven away, followed by the Iraqi journalists. Members of the AMS remained outside, discussing a Sunni man who had gone to visit his relatives in the hospital but was kidnapped by six men. “They control the hospitals,” said one man, referring to Muqtada’s followers. He noticed me filming him and angrily covered the lens with his hand. I was later told that he was head of security for the AMS.
    On my way back I drove through the wealthy Mansour district, where I had lived briefly in my first months in Iraq. Two bodies were lying dead on the main street. It was a normal sight. I later found out they had been Iraqi staff of the embassy of the United Arab Emirates. That day a Sunni friend from Amriya called me distraught because his Shiite neighbor and friend had been killed the previous night. It was normal. At least ten bodies were found in Amriya that day. A Sunni man who picked up one of them to bring him to the hospital was also killed, for doing just that. On a different day a friend from Amriya told me that two cars pulled up in front of a Shiite home and riddled it with machine-gun fire. On another typical night, Shiites in a Sunni neighborhood saw masked men in their garden. They found a letter ordering them to leave. The following day they did. One day a friend from Amriya was delayed meeting me because seven bodies had been found on his street.

The Road to Najaf

    Three days later I was on the road to Najaf from Baghdad, a key pilgrimage route for Iraq’s Shiites. It was fraught with the unique new dangers of the country’s civil war. I drove down with Shiite pilgrims, aware that the day before a minibus much like mine carrying Shiites had been sprayed with machine-gun fire from two cars in the Sunni town of Iskandariya, about twenty-five miles south of Baghdad. Five of the pilgrims had been killed. My companions were a young man called Ahmed, his mother, and their friend Iskander, who was the driver. They hailed from Sadr City, and we were going to see Muqtada speak in the Kufa Mosque, outside Najaf.
    Numerous Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard checkpoints slowed our progress. At each stop the policemen would peer through the driver’s window and ask where we were going. “We’re a family from Sadr City,” Iskander would say, or sometimes just “from the city,” since the men would know what he meant. “We’re going to Najaf.” We would be waved along with a smile: “Go in peace.” We drove past brick factories and palm groves, and as we approached Najaf we were stopped more and more often, our minibus searched, our bodies patted down. Finally all roads were closed off to vehicles. Our minibus was parked on a sandy lot with hundreds of others. Some had wooden coffins lashed on top. They were to be buried in the City of Peace, the vast cemetery for Shiites who seek to lie close to Imam Ali in Najaf. ING men waved metal detectors over all visitors. The day before, there had been a massive car bomb on this very road. Men waited with pushcarts to carry the feeble, or load as many shrouded women as possible, or carry coffins. Other coffins were carried on relatives’ backs in long processions sometimes led by clerics. We walked past three minibuses that had been crushed and blackened by the previous day’s explosion and one car that had flipped over. ING men in blue fatigues surrounded the charred wreckage and beseeched the many pilgrims who stopped to stare in silent wonder, “Please, brothers, move on.”
    Nearby was the cemetery set aside for the martyrs of the Mahdi Army. Hundreds of tombs of young Mahdi Army fighters had flags waving on them. Pictures of the dead wielding weapons were placed behind glass on the stones. Many streets in Sadr City had been named after Mahdi Army men who had been martyred by the Americans on those streets. My friend Ahmed, himself a Mahdi Army fighter, visited the tombs of his friends after regaling his mother with tales of their derring-do fighting the Americans in Sadr City. Ahmed was related to an important Shiite politician, and his oldest brother led Mahdi Army fighters and planted roadside bombs for American convoys. I was told Ahmed dabbled in this as well.
    We continued to the Shrine of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. A steady stream of pilgrims went through the stringent security procedures to enter. Coffins were carried into the mosque to circle around Ali’s tomb before burial. Iranian pilgrims had their pictures taken in front of the shrine by enterprising Najaf boys with enough Farsi to take advantage of the dazed pilgrims. Pilgrims kissed the wooden doors and entered the vast courtyard where the golden shrine shimmered in the sun. Families sat in the shade and picnicked; others prayed together or strolled around. Outside, boys sold souvenir photos of Shiite leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Sistani, Muqtada al-Sadr and his father.
    Kufa, a town just outside Najaf, was dominated by followers of Muqtada. As we approached the Kufa Mosque, all roads were once more blocked off. We were searched by members of the Mahdi Army. Lugubrious latmiyas (mournful songs) echoed from the stalls, describing in rhythmic beats the death of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet, and professing loyalty to him. The mosque’s thick walls looked fortified. It had been used as a base for the Mahdi Army during the 2004 intifada, when thousands of fighters battled the Americans in Najaf and Kufa. Inside the mosque fighters had lined up to receive food and advanced weapons training. Small groups were instructed in how to use grenades and grenade launchers. Crates full of weapons had been stored in the mosque in those days, as well as in Muqtada’s office in Najaf.
    It was in Kufa that Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr made his forty-seven famous sermons, beginning in 1998, when Saddam relaxed restrictions on such activities. Saddam promoted Sadr at first, viewing him as an Iraqi nationalist and as a pliable tool to use against Shiite leaders of Iranian or Pakistani descent, and against Iran. But Sadr, like Thomas à Becket, did not show sufficient loyalty to the ruler. In his last sermons he even criticized Saddam. In 1999 Sadr and two of his sons were shot on the road by unknown assailants. The government accused rival Shiites of the murder and executed the suspects, but Sadr’s followers blamed Saddam and rioted. Many were killed in Sadr City, then known as Saddam City. Some Sadrists blamed the Hakim family or Iran for the assassination. After the war Muqtada took over the Kufa Mosque, and it was to this mosque that he retreated in April 2004 when his followers began their intifada, urging them to “make your enemy afraid” and assuring them that he would not abandon them. “Your enemy loves terror and hates peoples, all the Arabs, and censors opinions,” he said.
    Kufa has a mystical importance to Shiites. Some Iraqi Shiites believe Kufa Mosque is the oldest mosque in the world. Imam Hussein’s cousin, Muslim bin Aqil, was buried there after being slain by the same traitors who would later kill Hussein. Many Shiites believe that the Mahdi will return to that mosque, descending down from heaven onto its dome.
    In the market outside stands sold souvenir pictures or key chains of Muqtada and his father, as well as books by Shiite thinkers like Muqtada’s uncle Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the most important Shiite theologian of the twentieth century, who led the Dawa Party and was executed along with his sister Bint al-Huda by Saddam in 1980. (Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was known as the first martyr, and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr was known as the second martyr.) Books by Khomeini were also available. One stand sold films of Muqtada’s sermons as well as panegyrics to Muqtada and films depicting his men battling the Americans. A large group of men stood around to watch these films. Other stands sold newspapers associated with Muqtada’s movement, such as Al Hawza and Sharikat al-Sadr (Rays of Sadr).
    A crowd assembled to receive Muqtada’s latest bayan, a piece of paper with his rulings on certain questions. That week’s bayan was formulated in a typical way: a real or hypothetical question was posed, followed by Muqtada’s response.
    “Seyiduna al mufadda,” began the question, meaning, “Our Lord, for whom we sacrifice ourselves.” “In the Iraqi streets these days, there is a lot of talk . . . about militias. And as your eminence knows, some politicians classify the army of the Imam al-Mahdi, God speed his appearance, under this title. So do you classify the army under this title just like the case with the brothers in the Badr Organization and the Kurdish pesh merga, or do you classify it under another classification, and does your eminence encourage its members to join the government institutions, especially the security and military ones?” The question was signed by a “group of members of the Mahdi Army,” and whether they were real or not, it was clearly also an official attempt to distinguish the Mahdi Army from the Badr Organization, which belonged to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the pesh merga, which belonged to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
    Muqtada provided several answers. He began by defining a militia as an “armed group which is outside the control of the government and which belongs to political parties.” “According to my understanding,” he wrote, “by armed groups they mean a group that has been armed by a specific party or specific political entity. But as you know most of the Iraqis armed themselves by themselves after the collapse of the dirty Aflaqists,” he wrote, referring to Baathists by their founder, Michel Aflaq. The Mahdi Army was an outlaw only to oppressive governments, he continued; so as long as the government was legitimate, meaning not oppressive and not associated with the people’s enemies, then the Mahdi Army was with it “in a single trench.” Most importantly, he wrote, “We are not a political party, we are the hawza ilmiya which speaks the truth, and we and the Mahdi Army belong to it, and this is an honor for us in this world and the next world. The fourth answer, the sons of this honest sect [Shiites], God make them victorious, consider themselves soldiers of the imam. . . . And that means their actual leader is the imam himself, God speed his return.” His fifth answer was that “according to what I know, the registered armed militias under the so-called current government are only nine, and the Mahdi Army is not one of them. In addition, the Mahdi Army is not a party and it is not an organization. There is no salary, no headquarters, there is no special organization, there is no arming, and every weapon is a personal weapon, if they have one.” Muqtada added that it was the occupiers, the Saddamists, and the takfiris who had provoked these questions. “If they really want to benefit the people,” he wrote, “they must fight terrorism and take off its arm, and they should provide security and safety to our patient people. Otherwise they are not protecting Iraqis, and they are not letting the Iraqis protect themselves.” Finally, he wrote that the Mahdi Army belonged to the Shiite leadership in the hawza, which had refused to dissolve it in the past, “especially after they knew it belongs to the Mahdi,” because the Shiite leadership were the deputies of the Mahdi. He was both implying that Ayatollah Sistani supported the Mahdi Army and appointing himself one of the Mahdi’s deputies.
    Reassured that they could all belong to Muqtada’s militia because Muqtada had said so, his followers marched into the mosque, past more security, who asked me to turn on my camera and confirm that it was harmless. Many of the men carried their prayer rugs on their shoulders and set them down on the concrete courtyard. The mosque was being restored, and scaffolding lined some of its walls. It had shiny marble columns and new wooden rafters on its ceiling. Next to each column were grim-faced men wearing dark suit jackets. Beneath the jackets were guns, and they had their arms pressed down both to hide the guns and to reach them quicker. They looked like cruder versions of the Hizballah security men who protected Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon when he spoke in public. In the past they had openly carried Kalashnikovs, but this was considered undignified. More than ten thousand people were in attendance, many of them women, who sat in a separate section. There were more children than I had ever seen at a mosque, for Muqtada was the “cool” cleric, a fighter who defied authority, and he specifically reached out to children, offering them notebooks and stickers for their schoolbooks. As the call to prayer ended, the crowd chanted and sang songs they all knew by heart. For Shiites, praying at a mosque is very much a communal activity. Unlike Sunnis, who go to whatever mosque is nearest to their home, Shiites take buses to attend the Friday prayers at several key mosques, leading to crowds in the tens of thousands and to expressions of communal pride and solidarity.
    Muqtada waddled with his head down as he always did, surrounded by his assistants and bodyguards. A murmur and then a frisson went through the crowd spreading out to the back, and people stood up to glimpse him. They had not been expecting him to speak that day, but rather one of his deputies. “Ali wiyak!” they thundered, waving their fists, meaning “Ali is with you!” Muqtada was flanked by his two closest friends and advisers. On his left stood the young and very thin Ayatollah Ali al-Baghdadi, originally from Sadr City. On his right stood his more rotund brother-in-law, Riyadh Nuri. Nuri was normally the imam of the Kufa Mosque and had also led Muqtada’s Islamic courts, which arrested and tortured people for suspected infractions ranging from homosexuality, selling pornography, and theft to insulting Muqtada. Nuri lived with Muqtada in the same house and had often taken care of Muqtada’s mentally handicapped brother, who died in 2004. He also commanded Mahdi Army fighters, whom he would dispatch to arrest people. Nuri raised his hand to quiet the excited crowd as Muqtada began by reading the normal blessings before the sermon. Like his father, Muqtada spoke quietly, without the emotion many clerics invest in their speeches. Not a talented speaker, he almost seemed to mumble in a gruff monotone.
    I had been told by his associates that he was not meeting with the media now for security reasons, so the closest I could get to him was sitting before him as he delivered his sermon. “We demand the reconstruction of the shrine in Samarra and protection for it,” Muqtada said. “We condemn the malicious hands that exploded the shrines.” Muqtada read a verse from the Koran and then switched into Iraqi dialect, as was his style. He kept his eyes down most of the time, reading from his notes and only glancing up occasionally. He spoke of doing the right and preventing the wrong. “This is the time when the right becomes wrong and the wrong becomes right,” he said, “when women become corrupt. Occupation became liberation and resistance became terrorism.” The occupation had joined the Nawasib, which to Muqtada’s followers meant all Sunnis. “Look at both of them,” he said, “the occupation and the Nawasib, and look at their values.” He called for Muslims to be united. “Which Muslims?” he asked. “The ones who follow the family of the Prophet,” meaning Shiites. “In the past God punished people by sending frogs, locusts, lice,” Muqtada explained. “Now he punishes them by sending earthquakes, mad cow disease, hurricanes, floods, bird flu, the diseases in Africa, and globalization, armies, politics, solar and lunar eclipses.”
    Muqtada sat down for a minute, and somebody in the crowd shouted a hossa. “For the love of the oppressed, the two martyrs, the Sadrs, pray for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad!” Thousands of people bellowed, “Our God prays for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad.” Then they waved their fists and continued, “And speed the Mahdi’s return! And damn his enemies!” In the past they had continued with “and make his son succeed. Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!” But this had recently been taken out of the chant, and Muqtada’s hundreds of thousands of followers in the country had dutifully followed.
    Muqtada stood up once again. “On the anniversary of the Iraqi occupation,” he said, “I want to discuss some issues such as a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation.” He expressed his condolences to all the followers of the family of the Prophet for the raid on the Mustafa Husseiniya two weeks earlier. “That attack was not the first done by the occupation forces,” he said. “It is part of a series of bad attacks that attack the civilian and the armed, the police and the army. The occupation started attacking everybody: civilians, army, police, even the Iraqi ministers, the minister of interior and the minister of transportation, and some of the Parliament members and others. It started killing civilians in the streets and in public areas. They are killing us randomly. They drag the cars using their tanks. And they torture the prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Um Qasr and other hidden prisons in Iraq. In addition to causing civil strife and civil war, they made our neighbors our enemies, accusing some of them of sending armed people and others with hosting armed people and another with sowing terrorism.”
    “We did not have a country under Saddam, and now that Saddam is gone, why can we not have a country?” He added that the occupiers could not prove anything they had accused Iraq’s neighbors of doing. “Even though we and our neighbors have one religion and we have one fate, the United States succeeded in dividing us and making us enemies. Instead of reconstructing the shrine of the two imams in Samarra, the occupation is building prisons,” Muqtada said, then switched to Iraqi dialect to quip, “preparing them for the Iraqi people.”
    He returned to classical Arabic and continued. “They steal Iraqi resources to torture Iraqis. They arrest a lot of people from any force in Iraq that is against the occupation.” Iraqis had gotten used to these attacks, Muqtada said, adding that his father’s followers had gone from oppression under “Haddam” (playing on the former dictator’s name and replacing it with “the destroyer”) to oppression and torture under the occupation. “So be patient, my brothers,” he said. “They are trying to plant a civil war. Do not let them drag you into the war. We know that they are going to assassinate our clerics and our leaders to make a sectarian and civil war. We will never be oppressed. So do everything not to apply the American idea called democracy.” America said it sought democracy for Iraq, but it had changed its mind, Muqtada claimed. It now wanted to grant power to the terrorists, he said, referring to recent American attempts to include Sunnis in the government. “So the American interference in Iraqi politics is very clear,” he said, “because you see the American ambassador appear in all the Iraqi conferences, meeting with Iraqi politicians, which we consider a terrible assault on us. . . . We all know that for every minister there is a foreign adviser assigned by the occupation. This is against the religion. Even the press, when they insult the Prophet Muhammad, they say this is the freedom of the press. And when our press writes something which is a fact but is against America, they say it is calling for terrorism. So this is all proof that the small Satan has gone and the big Satan has come. Everyone knows that we have demanded a timetable for the American withdrawal. They refused our demand because they said scheduling the withdrawal of the occupation is a victory for the terrorists, and that is a bad justification.”
    Muqtada asked all the nationalist forces in Iraq to help him pressure the occupying forces to schedule their withdrawal. He called for the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to cooperate with him in what he called “the national project for scheduling the withdrawal of the occupation of Iraq.” He explained that the withdrawal should begin in Iraq’s stable areas, such as the south, some of the middle (the Shiite areas), and the north. He demanded a phased withdrawal, beginning in the cities, “but in a real way.” He insisted that security be handed to Iraqis, and that Iraqi airspace be used by military planes only with the permission of the Parliament and the governorates. He wanted the Iraqi Security Forces to be trained without the occupiers and all government members to refrain from associating with the occupiers. “The Iraqi Parliament should be able to schedule the withdrawal of the occupation from Iraq,” he said, “but the withdrawal should be scheduled in steps. Every place the Americans leave, Iraqi forces that are fully trained and fully supplied should replace them. The hot areas—and of course they are on fire—they should be controlled by the national battalions composed of the army, the police and national security forces, and other people’s forces, and should be supervised by the Iraqi Parliament. And there should be an operations center to design a good plan to make it stable, and the Iraqi leaders should take some of the responsibility in controlling that.”
    Muqtada withdrew, and the prayer leader led the mosque in prayer. After prayers ended thousands of excited men rushed the windows and fences along the passageway from which Muqtada and his entourage would depart, hoping to see him one last time. “Ali is with you!” they shouted over and over again as he quickly walked by. The crowd slowly made its way out of the mosque as more hossas were shouted. “Curse America and Israel, and pray for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad!” shouted one man, and thousands of departing faithful shouted with him. Then they sang a song known to them all. “Oh Mahdi, oh awaited one, return him safely, this is the son of Sadr.”

    IN BAGHDAD that same day the important Shiite Buratha Mosque was attacked, leaving nearly one hundred dead and more than one hundred wounded. It was the second postwar attack on this mosque (it had a long history of being attacked), and it would not be the last, for another suicide bomber struck in June. Shiite politician Jalaluddin al-Saghir of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was the imam. He angrily placed responsibility on Sunnis, accusing two Sunni newspapers—Al Basa’ir, the voice of the Association of Muslim Scholars, and Al I’tisam, the voice of Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi—of causing the attacks by falsely accusing the Buratha Mosque of being used as a secret prison for Sunnis and of being the site of mass graves for them.
    On the road back to Baghdad my companions could not hide their excitement at having seen Muqtada speak. Ahmed called all his friends on his mobile phone. He repeatedly let me know how lucky I was. It was a quiet ride until we arrived in the southern Baghdad area of Dora. The road was blocked by Iraqi police cars, and we heard gunfights in the distance as we sat in traffic. Dora was a mixed neighborhood, but it was majority-Sunni, and Sunni militias were very strong there. It was once one of Baghdad’s nicest neighborhoods, with many expensive homes, but terrorism had brought the prices down, as it had in other unsafe neighborhoods.

    IN APRIL 2006 the Mahdi Army attacked a number of high-ranking insurgents, including prominent former Baathists in Baghdad’s Adhamiya neighborhood. They captured the suspects and left with them. Irate locals began shooting at members of the Iraqi National Guard (ING), and they accused both the Badr Organization and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of being involved. In fact, it was a Mahdi Army operation. In the days that followed, Iraqi police fired randomly into Adhamiya. They also shot at generators and cut power cables to punish the residents. Residents could not leave their homes for days in a row. It was more evidence to Sunnis that the state was at war with them.
    Following the battles, the Association of Muslim Scholars released a statement accusing the Interior Ministry’s Special Forces and the Shiite militias of attacking Adhamiya. “The people of Adhamiya defended their city with honor,” the statement said, “and they lost seven martyrs and nineteen injured. We have realized that satellite channels like Hurra and Al Arabiya have changed the truth, and they have shown the Interior commandos and its militias as the helpers who helped the people of Adhamiya from an attack being done by other armed people despite the fact that these forces were the ones who attacked the city. And we saw that the ING leader who is responsible for protecting the city was just watching and doing nothing.”
    On April 21, 2006, I returned to Adhamiya’s Abu Hanifa Mosque—which I had first visited three years earlier, almost to the day—on the Friday following the clashes between local fighters and Iraqi Security Forces. The mosque’s security men were so stunned to see a foreigner that they could come up with no objections to my presence. Iraqi National Guardsmen stood watch outside. Following the February 22 Samarra attack, mortars had been fired on Abu Hanifa. It was the most important Sunni symbol that Shiite militias hoped to attack. The clock tower, which had been damaged by American missiles three years earlier, was been repaired. Outside hung banners different from the ones I first saw in April 2003. Now they were white banners for martyrs from the recent clashes. One gave condolences to Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq from the families of Adhamiya for the murder of his kidnapped brother Taha. Another had a photo of a young man called Muhamad Fawad Latufi Annadawi pasted on it. The banner said he had been martyred “in the battle of Adhamiya on the morning of Monday, April 17, 2006. Another banner was for Latif Yawar Alyas, who was also martyred in the battle of Adhamiya. A black banner notified residents of the death of a woman.
    Loudspeakers echoed the call to prayer and the reading of the Koran as locals made their way in, their slippers susurrating on the street. They stopped to be patted down by the mosque’s militia. The walls inside were intricately detailed, inlaid with geometric carvings, honeycombed in its dome. About five hundred men prayed quietly. Ibrahim al-Naama, an aged cleric wearing a white hat with a red top, took out his glasses, donned them, and stood up. He spoke in a raspy and high-pitched voice. As was custom, he began by discussing Islam. “We want to talk about how the Prophet Muhammad was and how his friends were, so we can be like them in these difficult days.” He made reference to the writings of Ibn Taimiya, and thanked God that he was a Muslim and a Sunni. This kind of explicit sectarian pride would have been shocking a year before, but now it was commonplace.
    Moving on to the specific matter of “the ugly attack on Adhamiya,” he questioned whether the attackers were Muslims and warned that “anyone who kills Muslims on purpose will be in hell forever, and God will prepare a very hard punishment for him.” He demanded that the Defense Ministry prevent “other forces,” meaning the Interior Ministry, police, and militias, from entering Adhamiya, and that it alone control security. “Do not let other forces interfere in the security issues of Adhamiya,” he said.
    Iraqis were looking forward to the establishment of the new government, he said, because they hoped it could prevent Iraqi bloodshed. “Therefore any obstacle put in the way of forming the government will increase the bloodshed, and those who are causing it will be responsible before God.” He was referring to the obstinacy of Shiite parties that were refusing to accommodate Sunni demands for inclusion and sufficient influence. “Who could have imagined that the blood of Iraqis will be the cheapest blood?” he demanded. “This is how the occupiers want to divide the Iraqi people. This is how they want to plant sectarian division. This is how the occupiers succeed in their mission.” The Americans hated Iraqis’ refusal to be defeatist, as did their “tails,” he said, referring to the Shiite parties such as Dawa and the Supreme Council with a term Iraqis were sure to recognize (Saddam had often called Israel and Britain the “tails of America”).
    After the sermon there was more silent prayer, ending with each man turning to his left and to his right while still kneeling, and wishing his neighbors peace as well as the mercy and blessings of God. Men stood up and shook hands, making their way out of the mosque into the blinding sun. Neighbors stopped to greet one another and chat, smiling. A bulletin board by the mosque’s door had two papers stuck on it with pictures of middle-aged martyrs, both wearing Iraqi military uniforms. Men paused to read the signs. Past the heavily armed guards, there were no more radical books being sold, only a vegetable stand and a mendicant woman in black rocking back and forth with her baby on her lap as people walked by. I went to eat lunch in Adhamiya’s famous kabob and shawarma restaurant. That afternoon I interviewed a doctor in the neighborhood; he paused every so often when the sound of firefights interrupted our conversation. He was most shocked that even the sanctity of the hospital was no more, as militias were entering to capture people.

    FOLLOWING THE DECEMBER 2005 elections and the victory of the United Iraqi Alliance, as the main Shiite list was known, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad immediately began working with American favorite Ayad Allawi as well as with the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and various Sunni parliamentary leaders to sideline the Shiites and ensure that Prime Minister Jaafari did not remain in office. Jaafari was seen as weak, ineffective, and implicated in Iraq’s descent into civil war. Shiites already distrusted Khalilzad because he was a Sunni Muslim who was determined to give Sunnis a greater role in the state. The Shiites got nervous; the Sadrists, who were strong supporters of Jaafari, were galvanized.
    Within the Shiite camp the contest was between the Supreme Council’s Adil Abdel Mahdi and the Dawa Party’s Jaafari. But the Supreme Council was seen as too close to Iran, and there were worries that Abdel Mahdi would not be independent, having to answer to Supreme Council leader Hak im. Khalilzad let it be known that he didn’t support Abdel Mahdi.
    Khalilzad was a “rogue ambassador,” an American intelligence official told me. “He was contravening U.S. policy. He unilaterally blocked Adil. It was U.S. policy to reject Jaafari but not Adil, but [Khalilzad] just personally did not like the Supreme Council, while the White House and Meghan O’Sullivan of the NSC wanted the Supreme Council to be the strategic partner.”
    The process of forming a government dragged on for four months. Jaafari wouldn’t budge. The Iranians backed him. Sistani didn’t want to get involved. The Americans felt as though they were losing the Shiites and hard-liners were taking over. “Hard-core Mahdi Army and Al Qaeda were ascendant, and moderate Shiites were getting weak,” a senior American observer told me. “A self-sustaining cycle of violence was developing.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to Baghdad and told Jaafari that he did not have anybody’s support and could not form a government, implying that he should give up. But Jaafari was still insisting he had support. The decision to remove him came from within his own political bloc in the government, particularly the Dawa Party.
    In 2003 the Dawa Party was very weak. It was a party of Islamist intellectuals with no serious popular base that couldn’t challenge Sadr or Hakim. During the Saddam era, many of its leaders were exiled, its local activists executed. The first United Iraqi Alliance, formed in the run-up to the January 2005 election, had been completely shaped by Ayatollah Sistani. But subsequently Hakim, Dawa, and the Supreme Council grew stronger, and in the next elections Sistani had a much smaller role.
    Among the governing parties, the modernist, middle-class Dawa was viewed as insignificant. It had never called for clerical rule, unlike the Supreme Council. It gained only ten seats in the first Parliament. The other Shiite parties thought they could control Dawa, especially when they anointed Dawa leader Jaafari as premier in April 2005. But because Dawa now had access to money and the Iraqi security forces, it didn’t need its former sponsors. Dawa leaders became arbiters and brokers of power.
    Dawa Party insiders described Jaafari to me as indecisive, weak, and guilty of neglect, but not evil. He may have wanted a confrontation with Sunnis, but he did not lead it or organize the formal military response to increased attacks by Sunnis. He lacked the resolve. “Jaafari was incompetent and had no oversight over the Ministry of Interior,” an American intelligence official told me. According to another senior Dawa official, “Jaafari was weak, ineffective. He didn’t endorse the civil war, he was genuinely nonsectarian. He didn’t hate Sunnis, he didn’t believe in the exclusive power of Shiites, but he lacked control.” There were no books or computers in his office. He read Arabic poetry and drank tea all day long. In meetings with senior American officials, he would quote poetry and talk about how the Iraqi people were like flowers. They dreaded meeting with him. “Iran had a role,” one former minister close to Jaafari told me. “They forced people to confront what was happening and use resources under their control to organize a fighting force. Iran did that with its direct and indirect agents in Iraq.”
    Despite the calls for Jaafari’s removal, he would not leave until the marajiya, or hawza leadership in Najaf, withdrew its support for him. There was an air of desperation among members of the Shiite parties, who felt they were being outmaneuvered by the Americans and their Iraqi rivals. A Dawa insider who was present in senior Dawa leadership circles told me, “In the last days of Jaafari, a number of people convinced the Supreme Council that he would agree to withdraw his candidacy if the premiership stayed with Dawa. His condition was that Adil [Abdel Mahdi of the Supreme Council] would not become prime minister.”
    Ali al-Adib was the Dawa Party candidate most likely to replace Jaafari. The American and British ambassadors went to see Adib to confirm that they were not opposed to him, and he was, in fact, prime minister for one day. But in a Dawa Party gathering to confirm Adib’s nomination, Nuri al-Maliki confronted him with the issue of his father, known as Zandi, who was an Iranian immigrant to Iraq. Maliki asked Adib if he would be able to withstand scrutiny and people saying that Iran was taking over. Not being confrontational, Adib lost heart, and Maliki pounced. This putsch had been organized by Adnan al-Kadhimi, Jaafari’s senior adviser, who ran his office and worked in the party’s political bureau. Jaafari felt betrayed by Kadhimi and still expected to call the shots within the party and the government. Maliki then turned on Kadhimi. “Maliki is a very vindictive man, and has a dangerous streak,” the Dawa insider explained. Kadhimi knew too much. Maliki arrested him on trumped-up charges of theft, and allowed his prearranged escape.
    Maliki was a “gruff doer,” said his former friend, “a very angry person, angry about his conditions. He had deep hatred of the Americans. He thought they were responsible for keeping Saddam in power. He was full-square against the Americans, avoided opposition conferences. He was the typical Iraqi dishdasha type, least affected by foreign non-Iraqi habits. In Syria he was known to be a nonpolished street warrior in the ’90s. He had no power compared to Jaafari in those days. Jaafari was the party then, though many people resented it because he lectures people and talks nonsense a lot. Maliki felt aggrieved by the intellectuality of the Dawa Party leadership. The Dawa thought of itself as a vanguard party. Jaafari presented himself as a great theoretician. Maliki wasn’t a real leader. He was doing intelligence and jihadi operations in Iraq, out of Damascus: killings of officers at the border, throwing a grenade here, overseeing the militants. Low-level resistance work, so you have to report to Syrian intelligence, and he was resentful of that.”
    Maliki became premier with the understanding that Jaafari would be the éminence grise, a first among equals. He didn’t think much of Maliki. “Jaafari belittled these people,” the insider said. “He thought of himself like Lenin, that he had all the makings of a historic leader.” This showed when Jaafari ran for Parliament in the 2010 election campaign, especially when he slightly modified a quote of Imam Hussein as he set off to fight Yazid and used it to compare himself to the great Shiite leader. “In April 2006 Maliki came in as prime minister and looked bumbling and foolish,” the insider said, “but he is a clever street fighter and surrounded himself with cronies, equally aggrieved people, many from Nasiriya.” Maliki has a complex relationship with Iran, the insider explained. “He has some Arab dislike of Iran, he dislikes Iranian arrogance and haughtiness, but he has the Arab Shiite problem: Iran can do without you, but you can’t do without them. Maliki has a deep hatred of Syria from his time there. Syrian intelligence thought of these people as disposable blaggards. They abused and humiliated them. You would have to report every day to some jerk and live in great material discomfort. If you’re going to be an agent, better to be a Saudi agent.”
    The United States hardly knew anything about Maliki. The CIA did not have a biography of Maliki prepared when he was chosen to be Prime Minister, but their leadership analysts had many. The White House and National Security Council were surprised when his name came up, but Kurdish President Jalal Talabani, Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, and other Iraqis said they could work with him, so American concerns about the unknown Maliki were allayed.
    While the Americans didn’t select Maliki, they didn’t reject him either—which they could have done. “Maliki is cut from a different material than Jaafari,” a Dawa insider who worked with him told me. “He is more rural or tribal, not urban. He’s from the Hashmiya district outside Karbala. It was a Dawa hotbed. His upbringing was rural, a son of the tribes, urbi [with Arab traditions] with certain ethical codes, sacrifice your self-interest for your code. The urbanized are different; self-interest comes first. He is tribal in a general way. He doesn’t have ideological or theological issues with Sunnis, just practical ones: if they attack us, we will attack them. Maliki has more political appeal; he is what Iraqis need. Saddam was urbi too, so he could mobilize tribal Arabs against Iran. If you ignore ideology and just look at what he did, it’s like Saddam, but he is not as smart as Saddam. Saddam had the same social origins. Maliki within the Dawa Party was a very powerful person. He was a hardliner, doubtful of everything foreign, clinging by instinct to people he knows.”
    At first Maliki was diffident, quiet, nervous. He was concerned about security and the loyalty of his forces. He didn’t know anything about the government he was inheriting, nor how its forces were arrayed, nor how the U.S. military worked. It was like Iraq 101. In conversations with the Americans, he made it clear his priorities were getting their help to secure Baghdad and protect the infrastructure. Maliki was suspicious; he saw a Baathist behind every bush. He didn’t trust his own army. American Gen. George Casey thought the Iraqi Security Forces were strong and would be loyal to Maliki.
    Jaafari’s men switched to Maliki once he took over, but he didn’t trust them and hired his own people. He set up his office with a close-knit circle of Dawa advisers. It was not a national unity government. The Kurds got suspicious. They thought it was dangerous that nobody saw how decisions were made. The prime minister’s office was full of Dawa people nobody knew. It obviously wasn’t a national unity government that was forming but rather a patchwork of spoils. Maliki was under pressure from all sides. The U.S. military and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were pressuring him, and Baghdad was disintegrating. Maliki had to deal with internal United Iraqi Alliance politics and competing Shiite factions. He had been thrust into the worst job in the world.
    Maliki was committed to preserving the new Shiite-dominated order and soon threatened to use “maximum force” against the “terrorists.” Even if he was committed to the creation of a national unity government and nonsectarian security forces, and even if the Americans tried to reverse the sectarian trend in Iraq, it seemed too late. Muqtada’s supporters would not voluntarily relinquish control of the army or police, and having fought the Americans in the past and established their nationalist bona fides, many were eager to rid themselves of the occupiers they felt they no longer needed. Who would replace them? There was no nonsectarian movement, there was no nonsectarian militia, and no social space for those rejecting sectarianism. Even secular Sunnis and Shiites were being pushed into the embrace of sectarian militias because nobody else could protect them. The tens of thousands of cleansed Iraqis, the relatives of those killed by the death squads, the sectarian supporters and militias firmly ensconced in the government and its ministries, the Shiite refusal to relinquish their long-awaited control of Iraq, the Kurdish commitment to secession, the Sunni harboring of Salafi jihadists—all militated against anything but full-scale civil war.

    I WAITED AND WATCHED, wondering if Sunnis would be removed from Baghdad slowly; or as the result of a Sarajevo-like incident; or one such as the 1975 Ayn al-Rummanah bus attack in Lebanon, which sparked that country’s civil war; or another attack such as the one on the Samarra shrine; or perhaps the assassination of an important Shiite cleric or leader. The Sunnis would be totally cleansed from Baghdad, and Shiites would wage an all-out war against Sunnis. The Kurds, having waited for this opportunity, would be able to secede and tell the world they tried to have good faith and go the federalist route, but those crazy Arabs down south were killing one another, and who would want to belong to a country like that? The Iraqi nation-state would cease to be relevant. Would Sunnis throughout the region tolerate a Shiite Iraq and the killing of Sunnis by Shiites? Iraq’s Sunni tribes extended into Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. Their tribal kinsmen might come to their aid, sending reinforcements of men and matériel across the porous borders. Iraq’s civil war would become a regional war.
    As the summer heat peaked in Iraq, so too did the violence. North of Baghdad Shiite villagers attacked Sunnis in retaliation for a bombing that killed at least twenty-five Shiites. The Shiite attackers were joined by Iraqi police and Americans. Following a massive bomb targeting Shiites in Sadr City, several mortars were fired at the Abu Hanifa Mosque. Locals then clashed with Iraqi Security Forces. Sunni parliamentarian Taysir Najah al-Mashhadani from the Islamic Party was kidnapped by alleged Shiite militias as her convoy drove through the Shaab neighborhood, prompting the main Sunni coalition to boycott the government. A reconciliation proposal offered by Maliki was rejected by Shiites like Muqtada for being too soft on Baathists and Sunnis, and it was rejected by Sunnis such as Harith al-Dhari of the Association of Muslim Scholars for not going far enough with its offer of amnesty and inclusion.
    Iraqis were breaking the final taboo, asking one another if they were Sunni or Shiite. Sometimes this was done obliquely, the petitioner inquiring about one’s name, or one’s neighborhood, or one’s tribe, to try to figure it out, and sometimes it was explicit. Officially, Iraqis tried to stress that they were nonsectarian. On one television channel a poetry contest featured poets chanting that Iraq was unified, but those sorts of protests typically were a desperate attempt to avoid the fact that Iraq was breaking apart.
    By 2005 Sunnis and Shiites were using derogatory terms to refer to one another. To Shiites, Sunnis were “Saddamists” and “Nawasib.” “Saddamists” referred to Baathists and former regime loyalists, but many Shiites, especially the poor and uneducated, used it as a blanket term for all Sunnis. Shiite leaders, including Ayatollah Sistani, Ayatollah Yaqoubi, and Muqtada, used the term in their speeches to refer specifically to Salafis. Many Shiites have taken to calling all Sunnis Wahhabis, the strict brand of Islam associated with Saudi Arabia.
    Extreme Sunnis believed Shiites were “rafidha” or “turs.” “Rafidha” is technically the opposite of “Nawasib”: it means “rejectionists” and referred to those who do not recognize the Islamic caliphs and want a caliphate from the descendant of Imam Ali. It was used initially by Salafis and Wahhabis to pronounce Shiites as outside Islam, and it has become a pejorative term used the way American racists spit out the word “nigger.” “Turs” is the word for “shield” and refers to human shields used by the enemy infidels. It is permitted to kill these shields according to some interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence. Iraqi Salafis referred to the Iraqi Muslims they killed (such as members of the Iraqi police and army) as turs to justify killing people who were nominal Muslims but were shielding the Americans. Salafis and jihadis believed that Shiite religious leaders were supplying shields by encouraging their followers to join the Iraqi police and army.
    The Arab world has always been dominated by Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of the world’s Muslims. The new Shiite Iraq was aggressive and confident, overturning the Ottoman and colonialist legacies that entrenched Sunnis. It threatened the status quo throughout the Arab world. In Syria, already viewed as dominated by the Shiite-like Alawite minority that is hated by many in the Sunni majority, the Iranians built a mosque commemorating a battle that Imam Ali lost. The unpopular Sunni regimes of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, the so-called moderate Arabs, seeing their power wane, could no longer be anti-American or anti-Israeli, having sold out on those issues and backed the Americans. Instead they were playing the sectarian card to regain the respect they lost from their population and galvanize them against a new threat. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak accused Shiites of being fifth columnists, loyal to Iran. In Lebanon during the 2006 demonstrations that followed the publication of the Danish cartoons, Sunni clerics condemned Shiites and supported Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (one cleric called him “my sheikh, my emir”), perhaps hoping they could appropriate the so-called “sheikh of the slaughterers” as their own to gain more leverage against the powerful Shiite Hizballah. More ominous, in April 2006 Hizballah accused nine men of attempting to assassinate its general secretary, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah. Hizballah said the culprits had been motivated by a desire to avenge killings of Sunnis in Iraq. In his last statement before his death, Zarqawi specifically condemned Lebanese Hizballah, making arguments that presented a Lebanese Sunni point of view.

After Zarqawi’s Death

    The death of Zarqawi in an American strike in June 2006 was hailed by the Bush administration as a turning point, but the civil war had its own cruel logic and did not need Zarqawi. Instead, a new Zarqawi emerged. Sunnis began speaking of the “Shiite Zarqawi.” In the summer of 2006, rumors began spreading throughout Baghdad of a shadowy Shiite killer known as Abu Dira, a nickname meaning the Armor Bearer. In the Shiite uprisings of 2004, he was said to have held off the Americans in southern Sadr City. He earned his name either by destroying American armored vehicles or after killing an American soldier and stealing his body armor. Some rumors claimed he wore this armor at all times. Hailed by Shiites as a hero who defended them, he was also known by Sunnis as the Rusafa Butcher, a reference to the eastern half of Baghdad, where he was said to live. Another story claimed that a Sunni prison guard under Saddam called Abu Dira was notorious among Shiites for his brutality. The vengeful Shiite known as Abu Dira might have taken his nickname out of irony. All information about him was based on rumors, but he was said to be a man in his thirties called either Salim or Ismail, who lived in Sadr City but was born in the southern Shiite town of Amara. Some said he was a member of the Mahdi Army and commanded hundreds of fighters, but other sources claimed he was a renegade militiaman, out of Muqtada’s control. Some said he was a bodyguard in the former regime who had deserted and fled to Iran; others thought he had been a guard who tortured prisoners in one of Saddam’s prisons. One website claimed that he controlled the Interior Ministry’s Falcon Brigade, which kidnapped Sunnis from Baghdad’s Zafraniya district.
    It was said that every time there was a terror attack against Shiites he counted the dead and killed an equal number of Sunnis, although by other accounts he killed a higher ratio of Sunnis when he extracted vengeance. He was said to kill dozens of Sunnis every day in a remote part of Sadr City called Sadda, and he was also said to have threatened to fill the craters left from car bombs in Sadr City with the bodies of Sunnis. Some Sunni sources believed he was obeying the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri in Iran, who was Muqtada’s erstwhile backer, urging Shiites to kill Sunnis and former Baathists in particular. One Sunni website claimed he had taken an oath to slaughter a camel and feed the poor people of Sadr City after he had killed Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. A popular radical Sunni line is, “Our dead are in paradise and your dead are in the hell.” Abu Dira changed that, telling Sunnis, “Our dead are in paradise and your dead are in Sadda,” Sadda being the dam in eastern Baghdad where Shiite gangs dumped Sunni corpses. Although some Shiites in Baghdad cheered this legend as much as Sunnis feared him, Muqtada and the Mahdi Army denied that he even existed and claimed he had been invented by Sunnis to falsely accuse Shiites of crimes. An American operation in Sadr City in July targeted a funeral for one of Abu Dira’s relatives but failed to lead to his arrest.
    Muqtada’s control over his militia was tenuous. He issued statements such as “We are the enemies of the Saddamists,” which were interpreted by his followers as a license to kill all Sunnis. The Mahdi Army was not strictly hierarchical, and Muqtada was unaware of most of its local commanders and activities. The Mahdi Army’s cells were loosely organized; many of them were composed of friends who were on local soccer teams. Sayyid Hassan Naji al-Musawi, an important Mahdi Army commander in Sadr City, had been a well-known local soccer star before the war. Different leaders of the Mahdi Army disliked one another. There were jealousies and rivalries. There was nothing stopping a group of Shiite youths from declaring that they were a Mahdi Army unit, collecting weapons, and interpreting Muqtada’s statements as they saw fit. Mahdi Army leaders could be imams, sheikhs, or local toughs called shaqis. Before the war shaqis might have been neighborhood gang leaders, but with the formation of Sunni and Shiite militias and resistance groups, they took the lead. In Baghdad and majority-Shiite towns, most of the police were Mahdi Army as well. The reasons were simple. Most poor Shiite men supported Muqtada and claimed to belong to his militia, and most Iraqi police were poor Shiite men, so they were one and the same. Sunnis came to view the state as their enemy. As early as 2005, I realized that the once-confident and aggressive Sunnis were intimidated and uncertain about their fate. They worried about losing.
    Rather than remaking the Middle East, the Iraq War was tearing it apart. Kurdish independence could provoke Turkish intervention. At a minimum it would push the Turks closer to the Iranians and Syrians, who would have the same concerns of Kurdish irredentism. Sunnis throughout the region, who already had so many reasons to hate the United States—Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Palestine, Guantánamo—would now have one more, for the Americans had handed Iraq to the Shiites. As we shall see in the next chapter, Salafi jihadis could pour in to fight the hateful Shiites. Shiites might attempt to push Sunnis out of Iraq, for until they could control the key highways in the Anbar province leading to Syria and Jordan, their economy would be threatened. Arab Sunni countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia would support Sunni militias and perhaps intervene directly. Sunni retaliation against Shiites or Alawites in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and even Afghanistan could provoke sectarian clashes throughout the Muslim world. At some point Iran would intervene, and if it threatened the waters of the Persian Gulf, the entire world’s economy could be threatened. It seemed as though we were seeing the death throes, and not the birth pangs, of a new Middle East.
    Soon after the war, black and colorful flags appeared on rooftops throughout Iraq. Some Shiites even covered their houses with big sheets of black cloth. Each referred to parts of the story of the martyr Imam Hussein. Under Saddam such public displays of Shiite identity could have been met with punishment. Now more and more areas in Baghdad were full of Shiite symbolism. During the civil war, as more and more territory came safely into Shiite hands, the black flags and pictures of Hussein became ever more pervasive. Shiites were no longer afraid; the city was theirs.
    It was soon very clear that sectarian Islamist Shiite militias and parties had won the civil war, empowered as they were by their numerical superiority, their control of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the fact that the Americans were targeting the Sunni population of Iraq. Sunni leaders realized this too.
    In late 2006 Sheikh Saad Mushhan Naif al-Hardan strode into a hotel lobby in Amman, Jordan, accompanied by two stern-faced companions. He wore a tailored suit and was more svelte than I remembered him from when I first met him more than two years earlier in his village of Albu Aitha, a collection of family compounds nearly hidden by the thick verdant fauna kept fertile by the wide still waters. One hundred miles west of Baghdad, past Ramadi and Falluja, a left turn off the highway led to dirt roads passing through fecund fields fed by the nearby Euphrates. Sheep and cows drank from the river bank in the shade of towering date palm plantations.
    Back then the sheikh had been draped in black and gray robes, his face partially concealed by a white head scarf, crowned with a black rope. His small keen eyes, thick arching brows, and mustache lay still, waiting for an emotion to animate them. He had been joined by his three cousins: a lawyer, a history professor, and a history teacher. Since 1995 the sheikh had led the Sunni Aithawi tribe, the largest subtribe (he claimed) of the Dulaimi tribe, one of Iraq’s largest tribes (every sheikh in Iraq, it should be noted, claims his tribe is the largest). Sheikh Saad refused to enumerate his tribe’s manpower; it was the tribal equivalent of classified information. The enemy could not know the potential force his tribe could wield. In this case the enemy was the Americans. The Dulaimi tribe, whose lands reached from the Saudi border to the Syrian border and up to the outskirts of Baghdad in Abu Ghraib, was just as recalcitrant in the face of American occupation as it was nearly a century ago, during the 1920 uprising against the British occupation. Sheikh Saad’s grandfather Hardan Hamid, head of the Aithawi branch of the Dulaimi tribe, had ridden south to Kut with his five brothers and all the fighting men his tribe could muster to face the invading British army. “The British had more advanced weapons and better tactics,” Sheikh Saad said. His relatives were still buried near Kut. Sheikh Hardan had retreated to his tribal lands, fighting all the way. “When the British reached Anbar,” he continued, “we told them that the only way Anbar would fall and they could occupy us was if they killed or arrested at least two of our sheikhs.” The British took the advice of the Anbar leaders, killing Sheikh Sabar of the Albu Nimer tribe and arresting Sheikh Hardan, who was imprisoned in India for six years. “Then the British occupied the Anbar,” Sheikh Saad concluded, adding with pride that it had been the last province to fall to the Americans (though the fact that it did not have a Jordanian or Saudi or Syrian front may have been a factor). “The British occupiers befriended the tribal leaders,” he said. “This is the key to winning the people. They understood our traditions, unlike the Americans now. The British did not surround homes and break into them. They consulted sheikhs and respected them, and after they occupied all of Iraq, there was no more resistance.” The Americans occupiers, Sheikh Saad maintained, “push people to the ground and step on their heads. They arrest the relatives and wives of wanted men and hold them hostage. They are holding one hundred thousand Iraqis in their prisons. Iraqis have lost their dignity, and for this reason the resistance grows.”
    Iraqis were incandescent over rumors that their women were being held prisoner by Americans. Sheikh Saad told of three women imprisoned as hostages by the Americans in Khaldiya because their husbands were wanted by the Americans. “I went to speak with the American commander in Falluja, who called the commander in Khaldiya. I told the commander, ‘If you don’t release these women, you should arrest all the men in Anbar, because there will be an uprising.’” Sheikh Saad said that three hours later the women were released, and added, “The British never arrested women.” The sheikh himself was a resistance leader, and his men were fighting the Americans. “For us as the people of Anbar, revenge is an important tradition,” he said, “if they kill one of our men we have to kill at least one of their soldiers.”
    At seven in the morning on July 20, 2003, Sheikh Saad was arrested with eighty-five of his men in an operation that took one hour and included, he claimed, more than 120 vehicles and helicopters. Sheikh Saad scoffed, “like it was a real battle, but they met no resistance from us. They accused me of belonging to an organized group called Nur Muhammad (Light of Muhammad) that is leading the resistance with the support and financing of Saddam and bringing in mujahideen from Syria, and they said 60 percent of the attacks in this area originate in Albu Aitha, so I must know about them, but none of it was true. Their method is to arrest many people and hope to at least find something. Until now they have no accurate information about the resistance” (though it seemed he did). Sheikh Saad was held for twelve days, but the rest of his men were held for a month, and five were still being held in the Abu Ghraib and Um Qasr prisons. “If Americans had not behaved the way they did there would be no resistance,” he said. “Their behavior and broken promises increase the resistance.”
    The sheikh paused to contemplate, looking to the side. “Under the previous regime we all had equality,” he said. “We could all study in the university and succeed depending on the degree we achieved. The one exception was the security forces, which went to certain tribes. But I don’t want to talk about the previous regime. What’s gone is gone. Saddam disliked the Dulaimi tribe, and we had nobody in high positions in his government, because Saddam feared we would overthrow him. The Americans told me that I am the only sheikh in Anbar who did not visit their bases and work with them. They want me to help them against my people? This won’t happen. And this is why they make problems for me.”
    The lawyer leaned forward, his face long and gaunt, unlike his better-fed relatives, and asserted, “Iraq is the cemetery of all its occupiers.” He rejected the possibility of a civil war but warned that “they [the Americans] want a civil war. Before the war we didn’t use words like “Sunni” or “Shiite.” We are one nation and drink from the same two rivers. There won’t be a civil war, but there might be problems.” The sheikh and his cousins were convinced that “they will never allow elections,” and so he smiled proudly, lifting his head. “We are an independent tribe. We don’t have relations with other parties or the Iraqi Governing Council.”
    A lot had changed since those days. There was a civil war, and Sheikh Saad had actually joined the Iraqi government for a while, serving as a minister for provincial affairs. When I met him in late 2006, it was too dangerous for me to attempt such a trip to the Anbar province in a taxi, as I did in 2003. The sheikh and his companions still had thick mustaches, but now they wore the long black leather trench coats that had been popular with intelligence officers in the former regime. Sheikh Saad had brought his wife and children to Amman, where they lived in opulence. “All the leaders of the Anbar are outside of Iraq,” he told me. “In the Anbar America is killing and Al Qaeda is killing.”
    I was stunned to learn that the recalcitrant sheikh had joined the government, and I asked him why. “Our country needs people like us who are well-known, especially in Anbar and its tribes. They wanted me.” Although he had received various threats for joining the government, he explained that he did not care. “Any Iraqi who becomes part of the political process is threatened.” I wondered if he still supported the resistance. “We all support the muqawama sharifa,” he said, referring to the “honorable resistance” (a distinction from those groups that attacked civilians), and added, “and I am part of it.” When he saw my eyebrows go up at the admission he added, “with words.” I asked him if there was still an honorable resistance given the civil war that Sunni and Shiite militias were engaged in. “It still exists,” he said. “You don’t see how many Americans are killed in the Anbar?” He explained that “the ones who use the name of the resistance but kill innocent people, loot, kidnap, and have contacts outside the border who gave them an agenda and weapons” are not the real resistance.
    Sheikh Saad admitted that there was a civil war in Iraq, “but it’s not announced or declared yet.” America was responsible for this, he told me. “If they want to calm the situation, they can tomorrow” by telling Syria and Iran to stop sending weapons into Iraq. “Why are the Americans fighting in the Anbar but not the militias?” he asked, referring to the Shiite militias. “Why don’t they fight Badr and the Mahdi Army?” He answered his own question: “The Americans are part of them.” Then he asked, “Why don’t they make a balance in the political process between Shiites and Sunnis? They are making Iraq like Iran.”
    The sheikh was no longer part of the government. “I’m resting now,” he said. The minister who had replaced him, Saad al-Hashimi, was loyal to Muqtada, and he had changed the ministry’s staff, imposing, Sheikh Saad explained, “the agenda of his party and militia,” which in practice meant firing all Sunnis and ideologically disloyal Shiites.
    I was shocked when Sheikh Saad admitted that the problems in Iraq were not the fault of the current Shiite-dominated Iraqi government. “The Sunnis left the political process,” he said. “This is our fault. Sunni scholars led by Harith al-Dhari forbade political participation.” I had never heard an Iraqi Sunni admit such an error. Sheikh Saad added that even though he had realized his mistake, “Harith didn’t change his mind.”
    The men who had accompanied Sheikh Saad were two former generals in Saddam’s military intelligence, one of whom had also served as deputy chief of police for the Anbar province during the American occupation. He explained that for this he had survived numerous assassination attempts but had also faced difficulties working with the Americans. The head of his office had been arrested by the Americans and was still in jail, he said, accused of cooperating with the resistance. “The Americans only use force in the Anbar province,” he said. “I had many problems with the Americans. We advised them that their behavior is wrong in the Anbar, raiding, putting feet on heads, this is worse than killing.” He also blamed the Americans for the sectarianism. “They brought in the militias,” he said. “The militias belong to Iran, not Iraq or America. Since the invasion until now they are fighting the Sunnis. There is a new dictatorship now, a religious one.” For his trouble, he said, Al Qaeda had blown up his house. “Al Qaeda is not cooperating with the Iraqi resistance,” he said. “The real Iraqi resistance considers Al Qaeda an enemy.”

    IN THOSE DAYS it felt as if the Americans had withdrawn from Baghdad. They were devolving their authority willingly, abandoning their attempt at rebuilding the Iraqi state. It resembled Britain’s “colonialism on the cheap.” They no longer had the interest or money to micromanage Iraq. Iraq now felt as if it was occupied by Iraqi Security Forces and militias running amok, shooting into the air, shouting out of loudspeakers. Nowhere in Baghdad was safe from the militias. Even hospitals and universities were part of the battlefield. Whereas in the past Muqtada’s followers had conducted joint prayers with radical Sunnis to demonstrate their solidarity, by 2006 mosques were no longer sacred. On Friday, December 22, 2006, Mahdi Army militiamen raided the Abdullah Bin Omar Mosque in the Binook area near Shaab. The raid occurred during the important noon prayer, when a large congregation gathers to hear a sermon. Sunnis claimed that fifty Mahdi Army militiamen raided the mosque while the sheikh was giving his sermon; all but four of the prayergoers managed to escape, but the sheikh and the muezzin were taken prisoner. The Shiite version of the story is that the Mahdi Army entered the mosque ten minutes before prayer time. They claim they ordered the Sunni prayergoers not to move and told them they had come only for the sheikh. One of the men praying had brought his pistol with him. He ran behind the pulpit and opened fire. There was an exchange of fire that lasted until the Mahdi Army men ran out of bullets. The Mahdi Army men then captured him, the sheikh, and the muezzin. Their corpses were later found with signs of torture, and it was revealed that the third man who opened fire during the raid was the sheikh’s son.
    In late 2006 Baghdad’s walls and streets were covered with calls for students and professors to stay home. The radical Sunni movement Ansar al-Sunna had declared a “campaign for halting the assassinations of students and academics in Baghdad universities.” According to one banner hung in a majority-Sunni part of Baghdad, “In order to protect the lives of our dearest academics and students from the assassinations of Maliki’s government and the death squads of Maliki’s government, we decided to stop the universities and all academic institutes including the private ones for this academic year 2006-2007.” The banner stressed that this applied only to Baghdad. “It is strictly forbidden to attend universities in order to cleanse them from death squads that use the universities as centers to launch their attacks from,” the banner said. Such threats, warnings, and announcements are typically distributed to the Iraqi people through leaflets or by hanging banners on walls.
    Ansar al-Sunna was the successor to the jihadist group Ansar al-Islam, the Al Qaeda-inspired group that had been based in northern Iraq’s autonomous region before the war. The group was remaking itself as the defender of Iraq’s Sunnis. While there were signs of clashes between the Sunni resistance and Al Qaeda, the move by Ansar al-Sunna was a sign of how the civil war was uniting the disparate Sunni militias and how Iraq’s Sunnis would have to depend on them for protection, sometimes whether they wanted to or not, in the absence of reliable security forces loyal to the state. Some Sunni politicians defended the ban on university attendance. Asma al-Dulaimi, a female Iraqi Parliament member belonging to the Iraqi Accord Front, headed by the Islamic Party’s Tariq al-Hashimi, explained that she was sure the army of Ansar al-Sunna knew of threats to students and academics and that its call to halt university attendance was made out of a desire to protect the students. Meisoon al-Damalouji, a Sunni member of Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya Party, condemned Dulaimi’s statements as unacceptable. A banner was hung up in Baghdad Mustansiriya University on Palestine Street announcing, “We will not surrender to terrorism, and that is our response.” Prime Minister Maliki himself responded to the warnings by threatening to fire all professors who did not show up to work and to expel students who did not attend classes. This move was seen by Sunnis as an attack by the Shiite-dominated government against them, since it was Sunni students and professors who had been warned not to attend.
    On December 7 Muhamad Haidar Suleiman, a professor at a sports education college in Mosul, was assassinated, and Harith Abdul Hamid, director of Baghdad University’s Psychology Center, was also murdered on his way to work. In early December a girl’s high school in Jadida, or New Baghdad, the majority-Christian area of the city, was closed down by order of the school’s headmaster after militants left posters on the walls threatening to kill the female students. In Zayuna, a majority-Sunni area, leaflets were scattered in two schools, one of which was called the Tariq bin Ziyad school, cursing Shiites as bastards and threatening them.
    In fact, professors and administrators who had belonged to the Baath Party had been targeted ever since the fall of the regime. Student unions were dominated by sectarian and fundamentalist militias, and in Baghdad these militias often belonged to Shiite movements such as the Sadrists, Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yaqoubi’s Fadhila, and the Supreme Council. Religious strictures began to be imposed as well. Hundreds of professors were assassinated and hundreds fled. Incredibly, in November the Ministry of Higher Education was attacked by Interior Ministry forces.
    University attendance declined drastically because of the violence. Leaflets threatening students and professors at the University of Technology forced the school to shut down. In the Adhamiya and Yarmuk districts, both majority-Sunni areas of Baghdad, leaflets were distributed banning university students from attending their schools. In Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, leaflets threatened students who attended the agriculture college. In the Zafraniya district students of the Technical Institute were threatened by gunmen.
    In majority-Sunni western Baghdad, banners signed by Ansar al-Sunna’s Department for the Protection of Professors asked students and lecturers to abstain from attending government universities, academic institutes, and private colleges because they were dominated by the government’s Shiite militias. Ansar al-Sunna was planning on clearing the universities of the Shiite militias and killing them. As a result they announced that the school year was over.
    “To our respected professors and our dear students in the universities and colleges of Baghdad,” began one leaflet titled “Final Warning”: “In an attempt to protect your lives from the wrongdoings of the Maliki government and its death squads, including the killings, kidnappings, and violations against the scientific talents, and especially the Sunni students, which led to Sunni talents in Baghdad universities becoming a market for the death squads, and to these colleges becoming safe houses for these squads to launch their killings and kidnappings against Sunni students and professors. . . . From these universities the learned and the mujahideen graduated . . . and in these same universities they are being killed today.” The group warned it was abolishing the 2006-07 school year for Baghdad university students. The letter was signed by Ansar al-Sunna’s “campaign for the aid of the learned and the students in the universities of Baghdad.”
    As the civil war in Iraq intensified, Sunni militias appeared to be uniting to combat the more powerful Shiite militias as well as the police and army. In mid-October 2006 an alliance was announced between Sunni militias who called themselves Al Mutaibeen. The alliance included the Mujahideen Shura Council, Jeish al-Fatihin, Jund al-Sahaba, Ansar al-Tawhid wa al-Sunna, and some tribal leaders. Its name came from the word “tib” (perfume) and referred to the pre-Islamic custom of putting on perfume. (Before Islam was founded, some notable Meccan leaders agreed to help the needy and defend the weak; they sealed their agreement by putting their hands in perfume.) The members of the Mutaibeen Alliance announced that their goals were to fight the Americans and protect the poor Sunnis from the Shiites.
    The Sunni front was not restricted to Iraq. On December 7, thirty-eight Saudi clerics and university professors signed a global fatwa calling on all Sunnis in the world to unify their efforts and fight the Shiites to protect the Sunnis of Iraq. This fatwa was likely to increase the support Iraq’s Sunni militias received from abroad and the number of foreign volunteers attempting to enter Iraq. Sifr al-Hawali, an important Saudi cleric who often took a harder line than the Saudi regime, was one of the signatories. Other prominent Saudi Wahhabi thinkers who signed the letter were Abdul Rahman bin Nasser al-Barrak, Sheikh Nasser bin Suleiman al-Omar, and Sheikh Abdullah al-Tuweijiri. “What has been taken by force can only be got back by force,” the letter said. Just two days before, Saudi papers announced that their government had intercepted a cell of fourteen people in the city of Hael who were promoting takfiri and jihadist ideology on the Internet and were involved in sending volunteers to fight in Iraq.
    The Saudis also hosted Harith al-Dhari, head of the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, in an official visit. The Association was closely linked to some Sunni Islamo-nationalist militias, and Dhari had recently defended Al Qaeda in Iraq against criticism. Some veterans of the Afghan jihad viewed the Association as the ideal place to funnel money from wealthy Persian Gulf sponsors. Saudis and other Gulf Arabs were a significant source of funding for Sunni militias in Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Jordan were apprehensive of a Shiite-dominated Iraq, which they viewed as an Iranian proxy. Nawaf Obaid, a close adviser to the Saudi government on security issues, wrote in the Washington Post that if the Americans withdrew from Iraq, the Saudis would increase their support for Iraq’s Sunnis to undermine Iran’s influence. This was viewed less as an analysis and more as a warning by some elements in the Saudi regime.
    In November 2006 Jordan’s King Abdullah warmly received Harith al-Dhari despite Dhari’s public support for Al Qaeda and the fact that the Iraqi government wanted him for inciting sectarianism and supporting terrorists. In January 2007 Dhari was in Saudi Arabia speaking at private gatherings, praising Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, and raising money for the resistance. He was accompanied by his movement’s spokesman, Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Kubeisi, who warned that the fall of Baghdad to the Safavids would lead to the fall of Mecca and Medina. A cleric from Baquba also spoke in support of the resistance.
    Meanwhile, by the end of 2006, there were signs that Muqtada al-Sadr, who had been reviled in a sensationalist Newsweek cover as the most dangerous man in Iraq, was barely in control of his organization. Muqtada seemed more and more like a mere figurehead for an army with no real leadership or hierarchy. He had gone through many deputies, firing close allies. In a video of an internal debate among his men that was released without his approval, a different Muqtada was seen, one who jealously guarded his power but seemed to have little control over his men. Speaking in poor Arabic, all slang, Muqtada revealed his jealousy and insecurity as well, criticizing a deputy for praising Supreme Council leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
    Earlier, in the spring of 2006, Iraqis were as excited about the World Cup as other soccer-crazy countries. They hung flags for their favorite teams. Some who did received visits from Sadrists urging them to remove the flags and hang up Iraqi flags or pictures of clerics. Those who did not were threatened. Even though many of Iraq’s top soccer players hailed from Sadr City, that spring Muqtada issued a fatwa about soccer, warning that he and his father viewed it as a distraction from worship. It had been created by the West to prevent Muslims from perfecting themselves, he argued. The Israelis and the West kept Muslims distracted with soccer—as with singing and smoking—while they focused on science. The Mahdi Army tried to prevent women from going to the market in Karbala, causing businesses to suffer. Muqtada was desperately attempting to impose moral order on his followers at the same time as they were getting caught up in a maelstrom of violence.
    Although politically motivated violence, the occupation, and the resistance all affected and destroyed the lives of civilians, simple, criminally motivated kidnapping also devastated countless Iraqi families. I heard many horror stories—many of them regaled to me by my friend Ali. He told me about his father-in-law, a Sunni, who was once a prominent Palestinian resistance fighter in the 1960s and ’70s. “He has a small shop in an area that is controlled by the Shiite militias,” Ali said. “About a month ago, there was a roadside bomb just in front of his shop. He survived the explosion, but many people were killed and injured. The police came and took him without asking how a sixty-year-old man could risk his life and put a bomb just in front of his source of living. His family, including myself, now live outside of Iraq, so he had no one in Baghdad with him. His sister-in-law used to call him every day, and at night someone else answered his phone. The man told my aunt that her brother-in-law was in the ‘Ministry of Interior’ and hung up. She called us, and I contacted everyone I know. I sent my friends to the police station nearest to his shop. They told me they found my father-in-law’s car, but the police denied they had him. I am a Shiite, but I had never tried to establish any connections with the militias simply because I despise them. But seeing my family in that condition pushed me to contact some people who know some leaders in the militias. Someone called someone who called someone, and finally they found his trace. He had been taken to a house outside the police station for ‘investigation. ’ Anyway, my contacts were able to set him free the next day, but his head was covered with blood. They beat him on his head with the gun.
    “About two months ago, three men remotely related to my wife were kidnapped from their shop in Al Shourja [the economic center of Baghdad]. They had been merchants in the area for more than thirty years. They were taken by the police special force [Maghawir al-Dakhiliya]. Two days after that, someone called their families and asked for ninety thousand dollars ransom. The families were forced to listen to the sounds of torture on the mobile. The families were ‘convinced,’ and they provided the money for the kidnappers. One of the kidnappers, a policeman, was related to the families by marriage, but it seems he had a grudge against them. The day after they paid the ransom, the kidnapped men’s bodies were found in the morgue. They had been tortured to death, and there were marks of electric drills all over their bodies (one of them was eighty years old). When their families went to the morgue, the person in charge there told them he couldn’t give them the bodies ‘because the bodies belong to the Mahdi Army.’ Anyway, they managed to contact some people who had contacts with the militias, and they got the bodies. Their relative, who was one of the kidnappers, confessed he participated in the crime and threatened the families not to say anything. He also looted the shops of the victims two days after they had been killed.
    “A Sunni friend of mine was kidnapped near his house in western Baghdad. The kidnappers took him to a place where he saw many people being tortured. They asked him where he was from, and he mentioned the name of his tribe. They said, ‘So, you are one of our people, Saddam Hussein’s people,’ and my friend replied, ‘I hope God saves our leader,’ and they all replied, ‘Amen!’ Anyway, the kidnappers apologized to my friend and told him they needed to kidnap people to finance jihad. They called his family on a Friday and told them they would decide his fate after the Friday prayers. A couple of hours later they called the family (who don’t even own a house) and asked for fifty thousand dollars.
    “His poor family sold everything they had and gathered ten thousand dollars for his ransom. The kidnappers called them and told them the money was not enough and they might sell him to mujahideen in Latifiya for a bigger amount. The family was forced to ask their friends for loans, including me. They were able to provide another ten thousand dollars, and the kidnappers agreed to release him.”
    Like all Iraqis Ali’s friend Rasha also had numerous stories of kidnappings and crime. Perhaps none were as chilling as her young Shiite cousin’s tale.
    “She was in love with her classmate Ahmed from their time together at the university. They could not get married, however, because Ahmed was young and from a poor family. He was his mother’s only son, and his father had died before the war. He is Sunni and lived in Tarmiya, an area north of Baghdad dominated by Sunni militias. Ahmed himself belonged to the resistance. My cousin’s family were not rich either, and they could no longer work in Iraq, so they left for Syria. Ahmed borrowed money to buy a car and worked as a taxi driver. In one year he had saved enough to afford to get married. He contacted my cousin in Syria, and she agreed to return to Baghdad to marry him. One night, a few days before their wedding, they were on the phone when he told her, ‘I hear someone knocking on the door. I’ll be back in a second.’ She heard shooting and was so frightened that she hung up the phone and ran to her mother. Her mother redialed Ahmed’s number and a man answered the phone. ‘He is a traitor,’ said the voice. ‘He was going to marry a Shiite woman, so we killed him.’”
    As more and more Iraqis were disappearing, their desperate relatives were not merely hanging up signs on walls but turning to the Internet. The home page of Iraqi Rabita, a pro-Baathist Sunni website, often posted photos of missing people with the request “Please help us find these people—lost.” At first only Sunnis were posting on the site, hoping to locate family members kidnapped by Shiite militias. The site succeeded in finding some of the missing people, but it did not explain how it did so. So Christians and Shiites whose sons had been kidnapped by Sunni militias began posting photos of their relatives on the site, calling for help in locating them. One day in late 2006, the home page had nineteen photos of missing people. Four were Christians, five were Sunnis, and ten were Shiites.

    IN LATE 2006 Adnan al-Dulaimi showed his true colors as Iraq’s most sectarian politician. Dulaimi had taught at the University of Zarqa in Jordan while he was in exile before the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. Zarqa’s most famous son is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Dulaimi returned to Iraq a week after the fall of Baghdad. He was appointed head of the Sunni Religious Endowment but was removed for what he claimed were political reasons because he was “defending the Sunnis,” which could also refer to his staunch sectarianism. He formed the Conference of Iraqi Sunnis to unite Sunnis under what he described as “one umbrella” and to encourage their political participation, and he was appointed religious adviser to President Jalal Talabani.
    In late 2006 Dulaimi spoke at a major regional conference in Istanbul, hoping to raise funds for the resistance. He told the audience they should have named the gathering “The Conference for Supporting Sunnis in Iraq” and mocked the organizers’ fear of being called sectarian. Iraq is worth nothing without Sunnis, he said, because Sunnis owned it and built it. “Yes, we are sectarian,” he said. If they did not awaken, then Iraq would be lost and the Sunnis would be exterminated by the Shiites. He demanded support from Muslims around the world for Iraq’s Sunnis. He spoke of the Sunni mosques and neighborhoods that were being destroyed. “Iraq is going to be Shiite, and this will expand to the lands surrounding Iraq. Then you will all regret it, but your regret will be worth nothing because it will be too late. Where is Saudi Arabia? Where is Kuwait? Where is Jordan? Where is Pakistan? And where are the Muslims? Sleep and keep sleeping while Iraq is destroying. You sleep while Sunni mosques in Iraq are being destroyed. Sleep while Sunni mosques in Iraq are burning. Sleep and keep sleeping, but the fire of Iraq will expand to you. What is happening in Iraq has been planned for over fifty years in order to convert the region into Shiism and create the Persian Empire under a Shiite cover.”
    In a December 22, 2006, interview with the American-sponsored Radio Sawa, the interviewer pressed Dulaimi on why he avoided criticizing Al Qaeda in Iraq but regularly criticized the Mahdi Army. “Is Al Qaeda a terrorist organization or not?” demanded the interviewer. “I will not and will never answer this question,” said Dulaimi, “and if you ask me again I will hang up the phone.” The interviewer persisted, and Dulaimi hung up.

The Death of Saddam

    The year 2006 culminated with one last insult to the Sunnis of Iraq and the region when Saddam Hussein became the first modern Arab dictator to die violently since Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1981. Saddam’s hanging at the hands of chubby Iraqi men wearing ski masks was likely to be perceived by many as an American execution and as part of a trend of American missteps contributing to sectarian tensions in Iraq and the region. Others viewed it as a lynching by reveling Shiite militiamen. The trial of Saddam was viewed by detractors as an event stage-managed by the Americans. According to Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi judges and lawyers involved in prosecuting Saddam were ill prepared and relied on their American advisers. American minders shut off the microphones and ordered the translators to halt whenever they disapproved of what was being said by the defendants. Saddam was being executed for the massacre in Dujail. It was the least of his crimes, but it had targeted Shiites and the Dawa Party, and they wanted revenge for his crimes against the Kurds—others could even be judged.
    For Sunnis the important Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha began on Saturday, December 30; for Shiites it began on Sunday. According to tradition in Mecca, battles were suspended during the hajj period so that pilgrims could safely march to Mecca. This practice even predated Islam; Muslims had preserved it, calling this period Al Ashur al-Hurm, the months of truce. By hanging Saddam on the Sunni Eid, the Americans and the Iraqi government were in effect saying that only the Shiite Eid had legitimacy. Sunnis were irate that Shiite traditions were given primacy (as was increasingly the case in Iraq) and that Shiites had disrespected the tradition and killed Saddam on this day. Because the Iraqi Constitution prohibits executions from being carried out on Eid, the Iraqi government had to declare that Eid did not begin until Sunday. It was a striking decision, virtually declaring that Iraq was a Shiite state. Eid was the festival of the sacrifice of the sheep. But Saddam quickly became known as “the Martyr of the Sacrifice.”
    Saddam had been in American custody and was handed over to Iraqis just before his execution. It was therefore hard to dismiss the perception that the Americans could have waited, because in the end it was they who had the final say over such events. Iraqi officials consistently complained that they had no authority and that the Americans controlled the Iraqi police and the army. So it was unusual that Iraqis would suddenly regain sovereignty for this important event. For many Sunnis and Arabs in the region, this appeared to be one president ordering the death of another. It was possibly a message to Sunnis, a warning. The Americans often equated Saddam with the Sunni resistance. By killing Saddam they were killing what they believed was the symbol of the Sunni resistance, expecting its members to realize that their cause was hopeless. But Saddam’s death also liberated the Sunni resistance from association with Saddam and the Baathists. They could more plausibly claim that they were fighting for national liberation and not out of support for the former regime, as their American and Iraqi government opponents often claimed. At the same time, the execution created a new symbol for those opposed to the occupation. Saddam was not given a hood, though prisoners normally do not have a choice about wearing one. The execution and the photo of the executed Saddam had the hallmark of the U.S. psy-ops tactics, similar to the deaths of Saddam’s sons in 2003. Even the U.S. plane that flew him to his final resting spot indicated U.S. management.
    The unofficial video of the execution, filmed on the mobile phone of one of the officials present, further inflamed sectarianism. It was clear from the film that sectarian Shiites were executing Saddam. Men could be heard talking; one of them was called Ali. As the executioners argue over how to best position the rope on his neck, Saddam called out to God, saying, “Ya Allah.” Referring to Shiites, one official said, “Those who pray for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad have won!” Others triumphantly responded in the Shiite chant: “Our God prays for Muhammad and the family of Muhammad.” Others then added the part chanted by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr: “And speed his [the Mahdi’s] return! And damn his enemies! And make his son victorious! Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!”
    Saddam smiled and said something mocking about Muqtada. “Muqtada! It is this . . . ” but the rest was blocked by the voices of officials saying, “Ila jahanam ” (go to hell). Saddam looked down disdainfully and said, “Is this your manhood?” As the rope was put around Saddam’s neck, somebody shouted, “Long live Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr!” (Executed by Saddam in 1980, Sadr was still venerated by all three major Shiite movements in Iraq: the Dawa, the Sadrists, and the Supreme Council.) Others insulted Saddam. “Please all stop,” one man pleaded. Saddam then said the Shahada, or testimony, that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. When he tried to say it again the trapdoor opened, and he fell through. One man then shouted, “The tyranny has ended!” Others called out triumphal Shiite chants. Somebody wanted to remove the rope from his neck but was told to wait eight minutes.
    The Sunni Islamo-nationalist website Islam Memo claimed that the Safavids burned Saddam’s Koran after they killed him, though there was no evidence of this. Similarly, the site made other unsubstantiated claims: that Saddam exchanged insults with the witnesses to his execution and cursed one of them, saying, “God damn you, Persian midget”; that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani blessed Saddam’s execution; that the Iraqi government refused to provide Saddam with a Sunni cleric to pray for him before the execution; that Saddam said, “Palestine is Arab” and then recited the Shahada before he was executed; that following his death his body was abused. Although the Shiite-dominated official Iraqi media claimed Saddam was terrified before his execution and that he fought with his hangmen, Saddam’s onscreen visage was one of aplomb, for he was conscious of the image he was displaying and wanted to go down as the grand historic leader he believed himself to be.
    Predictably, there were celebrations in Shiite areas, and the civil war continued. Following the execution three car bombs exploded in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Hurriya, killing and injuring dozens. Another one went off in Baghdad’s Seidiya district, near its amusement park, killing at least two civilians and two policemen. A roadside bomb exploded near a children’s hospital in the majority-Shiite area of Iskan, killing two and injuring several others. In the southern town of Kufa, dominated by supporters of Muqtada, a car bomb exploded near a market, killing and injuring dozens. In the northern town of Tal Afar, a man wearing a suicide belt exploded himself in a market, killing at least five and injuring several others. It was also claimed that Sistani’s representative was killed and his office was burned. In the town of Saqlawiya, in Anbar province, there was a big demonstration against Saddam’s execution at which marchers carried large portraits of the former leader. Immediately after the execution five mortars were fired in Falluja, targeting the southern checkpoint to that city, known as the Numaniya checkpoint. In Tikrit, site of another large demonstration, Saddam’s tribe officially requested that the Iraqi government allow his body to be buried near his parents in Owja, the town where he was born.
    I asked a Kurdish Iraqi friend how he felt after seeing the video of Saddam’s execution. “It is sad to see someone who knows he is going to die in a minute,” he told me, “but I am happy that he died that way and not, as the so-called human rights groups want, to be in a jail where they want to make sure he has access to TV, newspaper, and good health.” He agreed with me that the images of Saddam could potentially cause some people to sympathize with him but added, “If anyone who could live the life of an Iraqi for only one day—they would want worse than that to happen to Saddam. Last night, all of a sudden I remembered all the agonies my family went through in their life. We had to leave our home twenty times and walk to the borders and leave everything we had and buy new stuff every few years. He never had the feeling you and I have now for him when he was ordering Ali Hassan Majid and the henchmen to bury people with their kids in the deserts, so why should I now feel sorry for him? But I hope I see one day when the current Saddamlets are hanged too, like Talabani, Ayad Allawi.”
    One thing was clear: the death of Saddam did not bring closure or peace to Iraq. Sunnis gathered at Saddam’s grave, demonstrators showed his iconic image, and revenge was threatened. President George Bush declared his nemesis’s death “a milestone.” To many in Iraq and the Muslim world, it was a clear message that there would be no mercy for Sunnis in a Shiite-dominated Iraq.

Part Two


Among the Jihadis

    REMARKABLY, THERE WERE NO ATTEMPTS TO ATTACK THE UNITED States in retaliation for its occupation of Iraq, not by American Muslims or by foreigners. But the jihad in Iraq did lead to a regional blowback, and its neighbor Jordan was the first to suffer.
    On February 16, 2006, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Wassim I. Mazloum were indicted by a U.S. district court in Ohio. The three were accused of conspiring to wage jihad against U.S. forces in Iraq, training in firearms and martial arts, collecting funds to support their mission, studying jihad training manuals on the Internet, meeting to plan how best to assist the Iraqi insurgency, studying how to build IEDs, and threatening the life of President Bush. Amawi flew to Jordan in August 2005 carrying laptops he wanted to donate to the mujahideen in Iraq. The indictment added that Amawi “unsuccessfully attempted to enter Iraq to wage violent Jihad, or ‘holy war,’ against the United States and coalition forces.”
    Amawi and El-Hindi were Jordanian-born naturalized citizens of the United States. Mazloum was from Lebanon. It was the first time such charges had been made against U.S. residents, but the charges were very similar to ones in numerous court cases in Jordan since the beginning of the Iraq War. These trials were held in the Marka military court, a squat white building across the road from a military airbase that is planted atop a hill in eastern Amman, the somnolent capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Apart from dealing with wayward soldiers, the court also handles security and terrorism cases. Relatives of prisoners stand on line on the curb outside, most dressed in traditional gowns, deep lines on their unshaven faces, waiting to be searched and allowed in. The winter winds blow hard on Amman’s hilltops and muffle the approaching sirens of a police sedan, which is followed by a dark blue van, windowless except for some bars on the back that show only blackness inside. The van is always followed by a pickup truck, with two masked counterterror agents manning a heavy mounted gun on the bed.
    On Wednesday, December 28, 2005, the van entered Marka through the main gate and circled around the back of the courthouse. Ten shackled prisoners were taken out and led into a cage in the courtroom. Their lawyers chatted jovially in a smoke-filled waiting room; then made their way past the numerous police officers, security officers, and soldiers bustling back and forth in search of something to do; and headed into the small courtroom, lit with bright fluorescent lights, lined with old wooden benches, and full of blue uniformed Amn al-Am, or General Security, officers.
    Muhamad Ibrahim al-Ghawi, twenty-five years old; Faris Sayid Hassan Shoter, thirty-two; Muhamad Jamil al-Titi, twenty-two; Rauf Aballah Abu Mayha, twenty-two; Muhamad Mahmud al-Sharman, twenty-nine; Basil Muhamad al-Ramah, twenty-nine; Monaem Ibrahim Hasan, thirty-one; Raed Ahmed Kaywan, thirty-three; Muhamad Qasim Sulaiman Ramah, thirty-five; and Majdi Khalid Hassan al-Fawar, twenty-one: all stood in the cage, chatting in good spirits, smiling and waving at the few relatives who sat in the back. The cage had a chain-link fence around it, an innovation imposed after one prisoner called Azmi al-Jayusi, a friend of Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, threw his shoe at the judge while on trial for attempting to bomb the Jordanian security headquarters. Other prisoners had been known to sing songs in honor of Zarqawi during trial.
    All ten prisoners in the cage wore dark blue denim prison suits, wool caps, and slippers. Their beards were shaggy, as was their hair, which curled out of their caps over their ears and the backs of their necks. They were hard to distinguish from one another. Some had a dark stain sunk in above their brows in the center of the forehead. It was a sima, a sign of intense piety, acquired by kneeling and bowing forward, placing the forehead on the floor in prayer. Their long beards and hair were a sign of their beliefs. These men were Salafis.
    Salafi ideologues dominated Jordan’s mosques, and young men filled their ranks. Salafism found a home in Jordan beginning in the 1970s, when a Syrian cleric called Muhamad Nasir al-Din Albani began teaching in Jordan at the invitation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Eventually he settled in the Jordanian city of Zarqa to avoid persecution by the secular Syrian Baathists and began preaching about the need to purify Islam. Hundreds came to hear him speak, and he influenced the ranks and hierarchy of Jordan’s clergy. The regime was threatened by the crowds he drew, and he was prohibited from speaking in public. Unable to operate openly, Salafism became an informal underground movement. The late 1970s were a crucial period, as the leftist, secular, and nationalist projects in the Arab world appeared to be failing. Saudi radicals rose up against their regime, temporarily taking the mosque in Mecca; the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan; and the Iranian Revolution was both a model for political Islamists and a threat to Sunni regimes. By the early 1980s Arab regimes had decided to dispose of their excess radicals by dispatching them to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.
    Jordan was a ripe environment for political Islam. Since the British invented it in 1924, the kingdom had been ruled by the Hashemites, or Albu Hashem, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who gained their legitimacy by belonging to Ahl al-Beit, the family of the Prophet. In 1970, when King Hussein fought an uprising of nationalist Palestinians—some of whom promulgated the slogan “The liberation of Jerusalem begins in Amman”—the Muslim Brotherhood, previously disenfranchised, supported King Hussein. The King rewarded them by granting them control over the Ministry of Education, allowing them to inculcate generations of Jordanians. Founded by Egyptian Hassan al-Banna in 1928, it sought to establish a Muslim state through nonviolent cultural revolution.
    Radical Islam had received a needed fillip from the Afghan jihad, which began in 1979. But it was following the Gulf War of 1991 that jihadism became an international ideology. The Saudi government’s dependence on the American infidels to protect it from Saddam, and the U.S. presence in the holiest Muslim land, coincided with Muslims’ increasing resentment of their own governments. Arabs who had fought in the Afghan jihad began returning home and were disillusioned with what they encountered, so they sought to bring the jihad home too. The Israeli peace process was but one more betrayal for them. Also following the Gulf War, the Kuwaitis expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, most of whom settled in Jordan. Returning Jordanian jihadis were repelled by the ostentation that accompanied the arrival of wealthy Palestinians to their poor country. One such jihadi was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who would lead the Tawhid and Jihad organization of Iraq, later known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Other Palestinians brought with them a radical jihadist Salafi ideology. Two of them were Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the most important ideologue for modern jihad and Zarqawi’s former mentor, and Abu Anas al-Shami, who went on to become Zarqawi’s key cleric and religious adviser in Iraq. Maqdisi’s writings influenced the jihadis who carried out the 1995 bombings in Saudi Arabia that targeted Americans as well as the September 11 attackers. Zarqawi, Maqdisi, and Shami were heroes for young Jordanians such as those on trial in Marka.
    Bordered by Palestine and Iraq, Jordan was caught between the two most important struggles in the Muslim world, at once both anticolonial wars and jihads. On November 9, 2005, Zarqawi brought the terror back home to Jordan when he dispatched four Iraqi suicide bombers to Amman, three of whom succeeded in detonating their deadly vests in three different hotels, killing sixty and injuring one hundred. It was Zarqawi’s third successful attack in Jordan. Each time he had used non-Jordanians to avoid infiltration by Jordan’s mukhabarat (intelligence service). In 2005 the mukhabarat had arrested thirteen terrorist cells, and in 2004 it had arrested eleven, one of which was in direct contact with Zarqawi. It was not a good time to go on trial for terrorism if you were a Salafi.
    All of the prisoners held in Marka in 2005 were from Irbid, a northern city by the Syrian border. Six of the ten were originally Palestinians, their parents or grandparents having been expelled from their homes west of the border in 1948 or 1967. One of them paced back and forth in the cage, chanting lines from the Koran. Others joked with their relatives. One leaned forward in conversation with his lawyer, complaining that “the verdict was already decided before the trial. This is just a formality.”
    The charges against the ten stated that there were five other suspects who had escaped. According to the prosecution, they had met in the Qaqa’a Mosque in the Irbid’s Hnina neighborhood, which they visited frequently. The charges mentioned that the men engaged in theological discussions about calling common people, rulers, and scholars infidels. They had agreed it was necessary to fight the Americans in Iraq and planned how they could recruit others, collect money to go to Iraq via Syria, and attack the Americans and the Iraqi Security Forces. In late July 2005 they pooled money to purchase a Kalashnikov and bullets. At different times they snuck into Syria, some of them ferried by a friend who owned a school bus. In Syria one of them met with a Tunisian who took him to an apartment where a Libyan and Saudi were staying. They discussed what operations he could execute and urged him to drive a car bomb, but the charges stated that he refused to become “suicidal.” He tired of waiting in Syria and returned to Jordan, where his friends gave him a hard time for turning back. (Another one was invited to become a suicide bomber, but he too refused and returned to Jordan, where he was arrested.) Others later snuck into Syria and discussed joining the ranks of the mujahideen fighters in Iraq. Still others snuck into Syria with a Kalashnikov and four magazines full of bullets. In Syria they argued, and two of them decided to return to Jordan, where they too were arrested.
    All the officials in the court had mustaches. Three military judges in olive uniforms sat behind a long wooden bench. Behind them were framed pictures of former King Hussein and current King Abdullah. Two young soldiers with red sashes from their waists to their shoulders stood against the wall. The chief judge sat in the center. As he prepared to read the charges, one of the prisoners shouted, “Say God is great!” The prisoners erupted in unison, yelling fiercely, “God is great! The way of God is jihad!” Perhaps they were imitating one of their role models, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, who made a similar show during his trial in Egypt for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The judge waited for them to finish shouting as if he was used to it and read the four charges, which were possession of an automatic weapon with intention to use it in illegal activity, initiation of illegal activities that could harm Jordan’s relations with a foreign country, sneaking and helping to sneak from and to Jordan with an automatic weapon, and helping to sneak into Jordan illegally. When the judge got to the part about “a foreign country,” he was interrupted by an angry prisoner, who shouted, “Infidel countries, not foreign countries!” The judge looked bored and tapped his pen on the table for silence, asking the prisoner to stop interrupting.
    One by one the judge read the prisoners’ names, asking if they pleaded guilty or not. He was interrupted by the same prisoner once more, who shouted, “This is a play. When is it going to end? We know that the verdicts have been decided and written in the files!” The judge tapped his pencil impatiently. “I am not guilty, you are guilty!” snapped some of the prisoners. “Jihad is not guilt!” shouted one prisoner. “Is jihad in the way of God guilt? Fighting the Americans and Jews and infidels is now guilt? We are protecting the honor of our sisters in Iraq. Is that guilt? God is our master and you have no master. Your regime is rotten and it stinks. You and your regime and your ranks, you are all guilty!” The judge tapped his pen and told the prisoners to answer without comments. “He who opens alcoholic bars is guilty!” said one prisoner.
    The judge lost his temper and angrily told the guards to take the loudest prisoner out of the cage and back to the van, and the prisoner quieted down. Then, as punishment for the prisoners’ recalcitrance, the judge ordered their families to leave the court. The military prosecutor, also in uniform and sporting a thick mustache, informed the judge that he had no witnesses, and the trial was postponed for one week. “God is our master and you have no master!” the prisoners shouted in unison. “He is the best master and the best supporter. America is your master and you have the worst master. God is great!”
    Following the trial I met with Hussein al-Masri, lawyer for the accused ten. Masri, dressed in an ill-fitting brown jacket with green pants, a red shirt, and a brown tie, told me, “Now the law permits accusing people who only think or talk about terrorism. It is not required to commit the act of terrorism; only thinking or speaking is enough. The prosecution accused the defendants of already going to Syria and meeting and arranging terrorist activities, but they didn’t do it.”
    The following Friday I drove up to Irbid’s Hnina neighborhood to the Qaqa’a Mosque, hoping to learn more about what might have motivated the young prisoners in their failed and almost comical attempt to join the jihad in Iraq. As I drove up, my taxi driver recounted how his cousin had suddenly picked up and left for Iraq in March 2003. Many young men from his town, Zarqa, who were not even overtly religious, had poured over the border to fight the Americans. An hour and a half later we drove through Irbid’s rolling hills, the elevation making the air cleaner than in Amman. We were a mere thirty kilometers from the Syrian border. Friday is a slow day in the Muslim world, and Irbid’s streets were nearly empty. In the Hnina neighborhood, two boys sat on a curb sharing a bag of potato chips. A small group of men and women lined up in front of the Jowharat al-Zein bakery to purchase piles of large flat bread for lunch, which was always a more important occasion on Fridays. Children played in the street, and the few women walking by were not conservatively dressed.
    I sat on a step in front of a closed store eating a sandwich with my friends and watching the trickle of men making their way to the Qaqa’a Mosque for the Friday noon prayer and the khutba (sermon). Men casually strolled by. “Assalamu aleikum” (Peace be upon you), they said as they noticed us, and we responded, “Wa aleikum salam wa rahmat ullah wa barakat” (And peace upon you and the mercy of God and his blessings).
    The mosque was an inconspicuous white three-story building with a small dome and a loudspeaker. Down the hill from its narrow gated entrance, and around the back, was a small tiled bathroom for ablutions, the ritual washing of the legs, arms, and face required before prayer. Inside was a long sink lined with many faucets and short benches. Upstairs the trickle of men had reached about six hundred; it seemed as if more men were present than the neighborhood could have produced on its own. Their shoes lined the entrance or were stuffed into pigeonholes. They kneeled, or bowed, or stood in silent prayer in rows along white lines painted on the green carpet, in a “fortified wall” the way tradition stipulated. Many small children played by the door; others prayed by their fathers or leaned against the columns. The mosque was unfinished, and unpainted cinder blocks and plaster were visible on the walls. The sun came in from a skylight around the dome. Men wore tracksuits, jeans, and dishdashas. I noticed one man wearing a salwar kameez, the traditional long shirt and baggy pants worn in Pakistan and Afghanistan but not in the Arab world. It was a statement of support for jihad.
    By chance, the mosque’s imam was called Sheikh Jihad Mahdi, though the name itself was of no significance (even Christian Arabs are known to call their sons Jihad). Sheikh Jihad wore a simple white dishdasha and white cap and sat in the front with a microphone. As he waited for the proper time to begin, he lectured the men in the mosque—and, through the loudspeakers, the entire neighborhood—on how to pray properly, using a strong colloquial accent and slang. As the majority of men completed their prayers in a low murmur, Sheikh Jihad stood up and began with a short prayer, as is the custom. “Thanks be to God, supporter of Islam,” he said, “for his victory and his humiliation of infidelity with his power and managing all the matters with his orders and deceiving the infidels with his cleverness, the one who estimates the days going over and over by his justice. Prayer and peace on the one who raises the flag of Islam with his sword.” This was no ordinary prayer and was not normally used, but it was the same prayer used by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the movement led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in every message they put out. It was a code, and supporters of the jihad and Al Qaeda would recognize it.
    It would soon be time for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and throughout the world millions were making their way to Saudi Arabia to fulfill this important pillar of Islam. Sheikh Jihad exhorted his flock to go on the hajj, calling it “the most important act of worship.” He warned that if a man did not go on the hajj he was as bad as a Jew. “Remember that we are now building this mosque,” he told his listeners. “It is not finished, so give any amount of money to help build this house of God.”
    Like all sermons, Sheikh Jihad’s ended with a prayer. “God support the Muslims and give them victory everywhere,” he said, as the crowd responded with an “Amin.”
    “God support the mujahideen and give them victory everywhere, in Iraq in Palestine.”
    “God give us the power to break the thorns of the Jews and the Americans and the Crusaders.”
    “God give us the opportunity to face them.”
    “Bless us and show us the way to jihad in the path of God.”
    Sheikh Jihad repeated this last prayer for jihad three times. Interestingly, he omitted the prayer for the leader of the nation (in this case, King Abdullah) that is traditionally invoked by clerics after their sermons.
    The sheikh lived beneath his mosque with his family, and I waited on the steps in front of his door as he kissed and greeted well-wishers following his sermon. He invited me to his guest room, which was lined with books on Islam. Green pillows covered the floor, and we sat down to drink tea that he brought in from the house, which was closed off to me lest I glimpse his wife. I could hear his children watching cartoons on television. Colorful plastic flowers, which seemed to be required in Jordanian homes, decorated the room. On one wall in his guest room Sheikh Jihad had hung an immense sword, right out of Conan the Barbarian, with a wide sharp blade. On its hilt were two skulls and spikes coming out ominously. It was not a Middle Eastern blade, and I had never heard or seen a cleric with such a décor hanging on his walls. The thirty-five-year-old Sheikh Jihad took his name seriously.
    Like many in Irbid, Sheikh Jihad was originally Palestinian; his family’s town had been destroyed by the Israelis in 1967. He had been a cleric for ten years, after receiving a degree in Sharia law from a Sudanese correspondence school. “The khutba is a standard that measures the direction of people,” he said, adding that his sermons had once been much more political, especially at the beginning of the Iraq War. But he had been arrested several times by Jordanian authorities as a result, and was forced to moderate his tone, at least a little. He claimed to have been tortured by them as well. I asked him about the ten young men I had seen in court two days before and who were said to have met to discuss their ideas and plans regularly in his mosque, but he claimed never to have heard of them. He no longer explicitly advocated jihad, in public at least, worrying that the November bombings in three Amman hotels had changed things in Jordan. “People were disgusted by it,” he said, explaining that things in Iraq were confusing.
    The war in Iraq had changed everything in the Muslim world, creating new confusion and new certainties. In the late 1990s experts on the Muslim world had spoken about the failure of political Islam, even explaining that the September 11 attacks were its last nihilistic act. The planners of the American war in Iraq claimed that the democracy they would install in place of Saddam’s dictatorship would create a domino effect, spreading to other authoritarian states in the region, from Saudi Arabia to Syria. Nearly three years later, with religious parties dominating the Iraqi elections, Hamas winning in the Palestinian elections, the Muslim Brotherhood increasing its power in the Egyptian elections, and authoritarian regimes in the region appearing unthreatened by democracy, it was radical Islam that had spread. In fact, it was experiencing a renaissance.

The Story of Hudheifa Azzam

    The father of modern jihad was Abdallah Azzam. Azzam was born in 1941 in Jenin, Palestine. Following the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation, Azzam, then a high school teacher, based himself in Jordan and led religious fighters from different Arab countries in cross-border raids against the Israelis from the “sheikhs’ camps” supported by the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Azzam led the Qutbi wing of the Jordanian Brotherhood, which was named after Egyptian Sayyid Qutb and made up of those closest to Salafis in their way of thinking. Qutb, who led the Muslim Brotherhood after Hassan al-Banna, was executed by the Egyptian regime in 1966. His most important book was Milestones on the Road. The two most important concepts in Qutb’s writings were jahiliya and takfir. Takfir, as mentioned above, means excommunicating, or declaring a Muslim to be a kafir. Jahiliya is the pre-Islamic ignorance that Islamists accuse present Muslim governments of having reverted to. Governments that have reverted to such a state can be declared infidel, and jihad against them is legitimate.
    During the 1970 civil war in Jordan, when the regime battled Palestinians in what came to be known as Black September, Azzam ordered his men to leave Jordan to avoid killing other Muslims. Azzam was alienated by the dominance of secular nationalism over the Palestinian liberation movement and hoped to internationalize jihad. He studied in Egypt’s prestigious Al Azhar University, receiving a PhD in Islamic law and graduating with honors. He went on to teach in Saudi Arabia as well as in Jordan. Following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Azzam moved to Pakistan, where he founded Maktab al-Khidmat al-Mujahideen (the Office of Mujahideen Services). The office served as the main clearinghouse for Arab fighters seeking to join the jihad in Afghanistan; it housed, trained, and educated them. Although the top Saudi cleric pronounced jihad in Afghanistan a fard ayn (direct obligation), the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood refused to issue a similar fatwa, so Azzam left the movement. Azzam believed that defensive jihad—i.e., defeating infidel invaders in Muslim lands—was a fard ayn. He singled out Afghanistan and Palestine as the most obvious cases. (During the war in Iraq, similar declarations that defensive jihad was a fard ayn were made throughout the Muslim world.) Azzam’s books and sermons formulated his thoughts on jihad, and he mentored Osama bin Laden until 1987, when the Saudi decided to form his own camp for Arabs. Azzam was not radical enough for this new camp; Ayman al-Zawahiri, who would become bin Laden’s key deputy and ideologue, virtually excommunicated him.
    In November 1989 a car bomb killed Azzam and two of his sons. In the car that followed Azzam’s doomed vehicle sat his eighteen-year-old son, Hudheifa, who had been fighting since 1985. In December 2005 I met Hudheifa in a cafe in Amman. Dressed in light blue jeans, wearing a leather jacket and red polo shirt, speaking excellent English, still fit and smiling often, he did not look like an expert in international jihad. Hudheifa, who was light-skinned like his father, with a neatly clipped and groomed beard, ordered a hot chocolate and recounted his tale. When Azzam brought his family to Pakistan, he settled them first in Islamabad, where he taught part-time. He set up the Office of Mujahideen Services in Peshawar in 1983, opening guest houses for mujahideen and training camps in 1984. Hudheifa began his training at the age of thirteen in the Sada (echo) Camp in Peshawar, and in 1985 he trained in Afghanistan’s Khaldan and Yaqubi camps. He fought his first battle alongside his father and brothers in Jaji that year. The all-Arab unit included Saudis, Moroccans, and Algerians. When he was not fighting, Hudheifa studied at the Mahad al-Ansar (Supporters’ Institute), a school his father had established for the children of Arab mujahideen. Rivals of Azzam condemned him for his friendship with Afghan jihad leader Ahmad Shah Massoud and for his relative moderation. “Al Qaeda separated from Abdallah Azzam,” said Hudheifa. “They wanted to fight against the whole world. Our school specialized in defensive jihad: Palestine, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya.”
    Hudheifa fought from 1985 until 1992. He befriended Massoud in 1985 and fought alongside the famed hero, taking Kabul with him in 1992. He then went to continue his studies at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, but for the next six years he and some Arab colleagues tried to bring the warring parties in Afghanistan together, shuttling back and forth between Massoud’s Northern Alliance and the Taliban’s Mullah Omar (he blamed the failure to reach peace on the intervention of Pakistani intelligence). “We were the Arab mujahideen respected by everyone,” he told me.
    From 1994 to 1995 Hudheifa was in Bosnia, working to funnel money and supplies to the nascent country’s beleaguered Muslims, and fighting on their behalf as well. He tried to enter Chechnya, but the Russians had blocked the road and he was forced to turn back. Hudheifa was arrested in the airport when he returned to Jordan in 1996, and again in 1997. He was also arrested in Pakistan, as governments that had supported the jihad began fearing the blowback. In 2000 the Jordanians returned his passport to him, and he was allowed to live freely, selling cars and nuts, importing and exporting, and receiving a license to work as a mobile phone distributor (on his personal multimedia mobile phone Hudheifa showed me films he had saved of Iraqi resistance attacks against the American military). He completed his master’s degree in Islamic studies and the Arabic language. When I met him he was working on a PhD in Arabic literature from the classical Andalusian period.
    Three days after America’s war in Iraq started, Hudheifa and other followers of Azzam crossed into that country, basing themselves in Falluja. “We were trying to convince Muslim scholars to begin the resistance,” he explained. “They had no plan. They were sleeping. For one month they did not agree. They said, ‘Go back to your country.’ We were more than thirty or forty Arabs, without weapons. We went from mosque to mosque, from school to school. People said. ‘The U.S. brought us democracy.’ They believed the lies of Bush, that he will bring democracy and freedom.” Everything changed on April 28, he said, when American soldiers killed seventeen people at a demonstration and twelve more at a subsequent one. Soon after that, rumors spread of four American soldiers raping a seventeen-year-old girl, with pictures distributed on the Internet. “This story was the main cause of starting the resistance in Falluja,” Hudheifa explained. “The rape made them reconsider, but there was still no action. I was watching from far only with a smile. In the beginning they said, ‘Go make jihad in your country.’ After the rape they said, ‘Okay, we want to start now or tomorrow we will find our mothers or daughters or sisters raped.’ This story exploded the resistance in Falluja. Then they called us for a meeting and said, ‘You were right.’ We had told them from the first day the Iraqi army abandoned weapons to take them, but they said, ‘This is stealing, haram [forbidden], looting. You could buy an RPG for three U.S. dollars in those days. The Americans changed the ideology of the people with their oppression. They could have been the best power in the world.”
    Hudheifa spent four months in Iraq imparting his knowledge to the indigenous resistance. His background gave him immediate currency. “I am the son of Abdallah Azzam,” he said, “so everybody wanted to listen, and I have experience in three or four jihads in different countries, and a lot of the Iraqi resistance had no plan. We gave them our experience so they could start from where we stopped, so they don’t start from zero. Jihad is an obligation as a Muslim. If you can’t support jihad with fighting, you can support with ideas or teaching. So we tried and we still do. Followers of Abdallah Azzam helped plan the resistance in all of Iraq, and we had hoped for a united resistance with Shiites. We were aiming to bring unity between Sunnis and Shiites with resistance on both sides, but the Shiite leadership was against us and Zarqawi spoiled it, making it fail.” The Iraqi resistance requested his father’s books, he told me, and beginning in June 2003 they became widely available in Falluja and Ramadi.
    He explained that his father “talks about the crimes of Saddam and what real jihad is.” His father had also opposed Saddam, he told me, trying to make it clear that Azzam’s followers opposed the Baathists as well and were not fighting in support of the former regime. “My father was kicked out of the University of Jordan for opposing Saddam’s war against Iran, and he was sentenced to death in Iraq for his work against Saddam. We are not with Saddam or the Baathists. We want to support the Muslim population.”
    Things were more difficult now, he explained. “After September 11 all money-transfer systems changed, but they can’t stop financial support for the resistance.” Wealthy businessmen from outside Iraq still sent money. “We have Iraqis who were in the Office of Services and are now in Iraq,” he told me. But still, the good old days of jihad were in Afghanistan. Back then, “We used to go safely and securely, get a plane from anywhere to Pakistan and find vehicles from different organizations who sent us to rest houses, who took us to safe training camps and then safely to Afghanistan. Now if you want to go to Iraq, there are thousands of dangers facing you. Going into Iraq is very dangerous.”
    Hudheifa was fiercely opposed to terrorists like Zarqawi, who, he said, gave jihad a bad name. “We say to people who give funds, ‘Don’t give to Zarqawi. Give to Iraqis, give to the Association of Muslim Scholars. They are the right way. Our school supports them.’”
    Hudheifa viewed his support for the Iraqi resistance as consistent with his support for other indigenous Muslim movements fighting in self-defense. “Iraq is a defensive jihad,” he said. “Troops from abroad came to a Muslim country.” Hudheifa told me he was proud of his work in Iraq. “Praise God, we were successful. Everything is going much better. Much better than we were planning. It won’t take like Afghanistan, nine years, to kick the U.S. out. It will be much faster. If I find a way to go into Iraq, I would go. I told the government. But we must know our aims and goals. Just exploding cars is not enough. We need a plan for the future. When the Americans leave, we will look for the next place.”
    Although Azzam had opposed attacking Muslim governments, other veterans of the Afghan jihad took a different view, preferring to target what they called “the close enemy” first rather than “the far enemy,” such as the Americans. Sheikh Jawad al-Faqih was one such veteran who seemed to want to target all enemies. I met him at the home of a Salafi contact called Abu Saad. Sheikh Jawad was a fearsome Brobdingnagian man with a thick beard and a clipped mustache (en vogue for Salafis); a large head; thick, fiery, protruding eyebrows; immense hands; and a raspy voice. He was a Salafi Hagrid. He wore a black salwar kameez and a white ishmag (head scarf) without an eqal (rope), which was the Salafi way. Like a good Salafi, he strictly adhered to the requirement that one’s beard be longer than what a hand’s grip can hold. A Palestinian whose uncles had fought the British occupation of Palestine, he had initially been influenced by secular nationalism. In 1982 he found “the correct way,” and abandoned his nationalist sentiments. “I looked at all Islamic groups, only praying and fasting,” he said. “I didn’t like it. To be a real Muslim you have to fight and make the wrong right and hit powers who work against the right and attack Christians, Jews, and the mukhabarat.”
    When he encountered followers of Juheiman al-Utaibi, a Saudi radical who in 1979 had led the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and was later executed by Saudi authorities, Sheikh Jawad explained, “I found their ideas were what I was looking for.” Sheikh Jawad had served in the Jordanian special forces, and he applied the skills he learned when he joined a militant group called Muwahidun, which meant Unitarians, or Monotheists. But in 1985 eight of the members were arrested. Sheikh Jawad was spared arrest because he feigned mental retardation. He was disappointed with his comrades in arms upon their release. “They were afraid,” he said. “Their ideas about jihad changed in jail, so they refused to work with me.” Disgusted with his fellow Jordanians, Sheikh Jawad was determined to leave. In 1989 he went to Yemen with another Jordanian, and together with seventeen Yemenis they made the journey to Pakistan. He had previously tried to go to Afghanistan but failed. In Pakistan he stayed for two nights in Peshawar’s Beit al-Shuhada (home of the martyrs) guest house before entering Afghanistan’s Sada Camp, where he received training in Soviet bloc weapons and was sent to the Jalalabad front. “I refused to be with Afghans,” he explained. “They had beards, but they were communists or used drugs.” He added, “I don’t like Afghans except for the Taliban.” Sheikh Jawad fought in four battles before being injured and transferred to a hospital. Osama bin Laden, known to friends like Sheikh Jawad as Abu Abdallah, spotted him carrying a heavy mortar across a river. “He liked me and said, ‘Sign this guy up,’” said Sheikh Jawad. “He was impressed with my strength. Abu Abdallah was a brother, a jihadi. He was very humble. He helped the jihad with money.”
    Sheikh Jawad returned to Jordan, and then “a friend of mine asked me to come back to make operations on the other side of the border,” meaning Israel, so “we smuggled weapons into Palestine.” During the Gulf War he trucked food aid from Jordan into Baghdad. At the time many Afghan veterans gathered in Jordan, preparing to enter Iraq to defend it from American occupation, which would not come for another fourteen years. Instead, together with a doctor called Samih Zeidan, Sheikh Jawad established Jeish Muhammad (Army of Muhammad), and he imposed a strict training regimen on his recruits. Sheikh Jawad admitted to carrying out operations against infidels: attacking a British target, attempting to attack U.S. marines, “killing a priest,” and “exploding a Jew.” He established cells of fighters he called “families,” each of which consisted of five fighters who did not know the identities of any other families. Sheikh Jawad claimed that Jeish Muhammad had cells around the Arab world. Most were veterans of the Afghan jihad. In 1991 a disgruntled member of Jeish Muhammad confessed the names of the organization’s members to the Jordanian intelligence. In 1992 members established a new organization called the Jordanian Afghanis, which bombed a movie theater in the city of Zarqa.
    Sheikh Jawad disliked living in Jordan and viewed Jordanians as unreliable. “I was jailed thirteen times,” he said, “nine times because Jordanians named me, even when they gave their word that they wouldn’t.” Likewise, he was suspicious of fellow Palestinians in Jordan. “This generation of Palestinians,” he explained, “their fathers fled Palestine, so they can’t be trusted.” Sheikh Jawad was now a car dealer, but he missed the jihad. “I wish I was in Afghanistan now like I wish I was in paradise,” he told me. Likewise, he hoped to go to Iraq but worried that the Jordanians would turn him in. “If I reach the borders they will tell the Americans or the rafidha, [but] I wish I could go.”

    “Iraq has a different taste. The water, the dates, the yogurt. It is the country of the caliphate. I am addicted to Iraq, addicted to jihad.”

    Outside, the opulent western Amman homes are unpainted, the cinder blocks still showing, rebar protruding from unfinished rooftops. Hastily constructed square houses are piled one atop the other haphazardly along the hills, an architectural patchwork like in a South American barrio, with narrow alleys covered by laundry hanging between rooftops. Empty lots become trash lots. Thin metal minarets jut up from the cacophony, their mosques mere unadorned squares like all the homes but with a speaker attached to the metal tower. In a maze of narrow treeless streets in Rusaifa, south of Amman, shops cover the heads of female dummies in the windows; on the streets some women wear the burqa. Muddy cars drive through roads built in wadis (dry riverbeds) and trash collects on cliff sides. In the distance the yellow and red hills and dunes of the desert look cold against the gray winter sky. Like a Jewish settler in the West Bank, Muhamad Wasfi built his home on a deserted moonscape. It too appeared unfinished yet old, the yard covered with garbage, shrubs, a tricycle, and a toy gun.
    Abu Muntasar, as he is called, wore fake Nike training pants and a matching blue sweatshirt. He had a strong thick body, with a belly that showed he was not as active as he used to be. His thick beard was unkempt, but his mustache was groomed short like a Salafi’s, and his hair was close-cropped. He had a false front tooth. Jordan’s winters are bitter, and we sat close to a gas heater in his guest room. Though Abu Muntasar was born in the West Bank in 1963, his father worked for the Jordanian Army. “I still remember the day I left Palestine,” he said, “with all the pieces of the Palestinian people. The Jews were raping and killing, so people were scared for their honor and left for Jordan.” His family moved first to Amman and then to Zarqa, northwest of the capital, where many military families were based. Abu Muntasar served for two years in the Jordanian military before earning a degree in business management and working as a civil servant. “At that time I generally began learning Islamic thought,” he explained. He admired the radical Islamic Group of Egypt and hoped to establish a similar Jordanian movement. “As Palestinian people we want to find a solution for our question,” he told me. “Although I was young, I saw no other solution for our problems other than Islam, so I wasn’t affected by secular Palestinian movements. I wanted to do something for Islam and Muslims and help establish the Muslim state and make Palestine the capital of our new caliphate.” I asked him if he thought this was possible. “I believe it without any doubt,” he said. “This has been proven by the Prophet Muhammad in his words.”
    He viewed Jordan’s Islamic movements as contained or co-opted by the government. Like many Salafis, he was autodidactic, reading the works of Abdallah Azzam and the radical Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman currently imprisoned in America for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He read their books and listened to tapes of their sermons, admiring them for going to Afghanistan. In 1989 he went to Pakistan and then Afghanistan “to see the reality of Muslims and their movements, of the Islamic nation and jihad.” He dreamed of starting a jihad in Sham (the lands of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine) and liberating his homeland. “I was lucky,” he said, because he got to meet his hero Rahman in the Saudi-run Ansur guest house. The sheikh lectured Abu Muntasar and others about jihad: its justification, its history, and its future. “It was the first and last time that I saw the sheikh, but for me it is a rich history,” he recalled with nostalgia. Before going to the Jalalabad front, he was trained in the Sada and Salahedin camps, and fought under the leadership of an Egyptian called Abu Uthman. He also fought with Afghan leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf but complained that “Sayyaf disappointed many people in the final years of the jihad by taking the side of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. He should have taken the other side.”
    In 1990 Abu Muntasar reached an agreement with jihad officials in Afghanistan that would allow him to bring his wife and children and work as a teacher with the sons of mujahideen, while continuing to fight during his vacations. Iraq invaded Kuwait upon his return to Jordan, “and my ideas changed,” he said. “The war was here.” Although a huge international coalition punished Saddam for violating international law, Israel’s defiance of United Nations rulings were ignored, he said. “It was a critical point for any Muslim who loves his religion and nation,” he said. Together with a Jordanian doctor called Muhammad al-Rifai, who was a leader of Jordan’s Afghan Arabs, he “established a jihad fighting movement based on spreading tawhid and jihad, and we directed our energies against Israel.” Led by Rifai, his movement was called the Organized Movement of Islamic Call and Jihad. The main goal of the organization, which he claimed had thousands of members and supporters, was to establish a caliphate and then to destroy Israel. Abu Muntasar, the organization’s speaker, spread its ideas in mosques and schools, although he had no formal religious education. “Islamic thought is something personal,” he said. “I taught myself. I was a leader and had to learn more and teach in people’s homes and mosques, even funeral houses.” Following the Gulf War, the Jordanian government cracked down on Islamic movements, and Abu Muntasar was jailed with many of his associates, since their group was affiliated with the Jeish Muhammad. Abu Muntasar had opposed operations in Jordan. “We knew it would be useless, and we had a much more important goal,” he said. In prison he was beaten and tortured. “Torture is how they got information,” he said. “Torture is the best way to get information.” (I joked that perhaps I should torture him, then, to get more answers.) Following their release from prison, Rifai returned to Afghanistan and then sought asylum in England, while Abu Muntasar worked as a part-time imam in mosques and roved the country to teach and lecture.
    Abu Muntasar described the 1990s as his trial-and-error period. He opposed attacking the Jordanian government, explaining that “the near enemy exists to protect the far enemy, but if you attack the near enemy, then you alienate the population. They will say the dead man is a member of this or that tribe, he prays with you, it will get people to hate you. But if you attack the far enemy, you are also attacking the near enemy, but the regime cannot say anything to you because people will hate them. If you kill a Jew or Americans, people will like you.” Abu Muntasar was arrested once more for his speeches, and later for his activities with Zarqawi. “What I am concerned with now is continuing the Islamic call and establishing an Islamic way of life and waiting for the correct jihad. The next battlefield is Sham, and we must prepare the people of Sham for this. What happened in Iraq and before in Afghanistan has extension. The U.S. wants to get inside the capital of Islam, which is Sham. This entrance will be through Syria. Syria will be the slaughterhouse of Americans and their supporters, so they are welcome to get inside Syria and be butchered.”
    Abu Saad called me one night and picked me up from my hotel in Amman. In the front passenger seat sat thirty-seven-year-old Abu Muhamad. Though he was seated in the front and I in the back, lighting my notebook with my mobile phone in order to take notes, I could see from how his head touched the car’s roof and his long legs pressed against the dashboard that Abu Muhamad was a giant man. He had a dark sima above his prominent brow, and though I could see his thick lips, his face was shrouded by a dark ishmag with an eqal. He refused to tell me whether he was originally Palestinian, explaining that nationalism was against Islam.
    Soon after the fall of Baghdad, Abu Muhamad had made his way to Baquba, a town east of Baghdad near the Iranian border. “I was thirsty for jihad,” he explained. “I felt I had a duty to go to Iraq. It’s a duty of any Muslim if he can.” He had previously lived in Iraq for five years before, and so had established relationships with “good people on the right side,” and he knew the country’s geography and dialect, so he passed for a local. Abu Muhamad had been married in Iraq in 1989, but when he returned to fight the Americans he had not expected to see his family again. Though at first he and his friends were unorganized, they soon met fighters from western Iraq and became more involved in the jihad. Abu Muhamad had been a sniper during his Jordanian military service. The Iraqis had not needed much training. “Do you know an Iraqi who doesn’t know how to fight?” he asked me. Abu Muhamad, who had known Zarqawi before the war, ended up in a group of five or six fighters belonging to Zarqawi’s movement but composed mainly of Iraqis. The group was commanded by a former Iraqi pilot. “God’s support came and sent us brothers from Ansar al-Sunna who trained us in street fighting,” he explained. “Jihad will spread around the world. The Americans are trying to attack Syria, and we are expecting them to attack.”
    He refused to discuss most of the operations he had taken part in but admitted they had involved shootings and bombs and explained that most suicide bombers were not Iraqi. Jihad was an obligation for Muslims, he told me. “It is not about Iraq. The higher goal is to establish an Islamic state.” Referring to Osama bin Laden, he told me, “Sheikh Abu Abdallah said, ‘The foreigners and infidels and their interests are everywhere, so anywhere you can hit them you will hurt them.’”
    He complained that Jordan was protecting Israel. “If this regime gave the youth freedom they would eat Israel,” he said. “They wouldn’t even leave their bones. But regimes are trying to protect Israel.” Abu Muhamad supported attacks against Iraq’s Shiite civilians because he considered them rafidha. “The infidel sects are one, if they are Jews or Shiites.” He explained that Ibn Taimiya, the thirteenth-century scholar loved by Salafis, had said that Shiites “were worse than Jews or Christians. Shiites hate Islam and hate Sunnis.”
    Abu Muhamad’s days began early, although he and his fellow fighters rarely left the house during daylight, executing most operations at night. During the day, “one of the brothers would lecture, or we prepared for operations.” Before his departure for Iraq he had been arrested, accused of being a mujahid. “They called us takfiris,” he complained. “The man who says, ‘Don’t drink alcohol, don’t dance, but pray instead’—they call him a terrorist.” Although Sheikh Jawad had spoken a rich Arabic, referring to the Koran, Abu Muhamad’s speech was heavily colloquial. He called Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak a “pimp” for going to pay condolences to Tony Blair following the July 7 London bombings.
    Abu Muhamad had not been in Iraq for a year, but he longed to return. “Iraq has a different taste,” he said. “The water, the dates, the yogurt. It is the country of the caliphate. I am addicted to Iraq, addicted to jihad.”
    Yet no one was more addicted to jihad than the “Sheikh of the Slaughterers,” Ahmad Fadhil Nazal al-Khalaylah, more commonly known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He hailed from Zarqa, which had been the capital of radical Islam in Jordan since the 1960s and had also produced most of the Jordanian jihadis fighting in Iraq. Zarqa’s population of nearly one million is made up mostly of Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 and a second wave of refugees who came in 1967. Abdallah Azzam had also settled there.
    Zarqawi, who took his city as his namesake, had been a wild young man, with no interest in religion. A high school dropout, he had a reputation for getting tattoos, drinking alcohol, getting into fights, and ending up in jail. Like many disaffected Muslim youth, he was moved to fight in Afghanistan by stories of mujahideen heroism there. But by the time he arrived as a twenty-three-year-old, the Russians had withdrawn, so he took part in the civil war. His journey to Afghanistan was arranged by Azzam’s Office of Mujahideen Services, then run by Azzam’s follower Sheikh Abdel Majid al-Majali, or Abu Qutaiba. Azzam’s son Hudheifa told me that in 1989 he picked up Zarqawi from the airport in Peshawar and took him to the Beit al-Shuhada guest house. “Zarqawi was a very simple person, silent, he didn’t talk. As a witness I can say that he was very well trained in military skills, especially in making bombs. In English you say ‘braveheart,’ but he had a dead heart—he was never scared. Bin Laden wanted Zarqawi to join Al Qaeda, but he didn’t like Al Qaeda’s ideology, so he left for Khost. I saw him in Gardez and Khost; if he was alone against a thousand soldiers he would not retreat. He was not a leader at the time, just an ordinary person and a good fighter.”
    Sheikh Jawad, the imposing former jihadi, had a similar view of his friend Zarqawi, whom he called Abu Musab. “He used to come to my house,” he said. “We went to Afghanistan together. Abu Musab was a normal man, afraid of God, a very natural man, didn’t have a lot of knowledge.” Sheikh Jawad told me that Zarqawi gave two of his sisters as wives to Afghans in order to strengthen his relationship with his hosts. “Afghans took care of him, and he gained experience,” he said. Zarqawi was placed in charge of Jordanians arriving in Afghanistan and later led a group called Jund al-Sham (Soldiers of Sham).
    In Pakistan Zarqawi met Isam Taher al-Oteibi al-Burqawi, known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Maqdisi was a self-taught Palestinian cleric living in Kuwait. Like many Palestinians who relocated to Jordan from Kuwait, he had belonged to an important Kuwaiti Salafi organization called Jamiyat al-Turath al-Islami (The Society of Islamic Heritage), led by the Egyptian cleric Sheikh Abdel Rahman al-Khaleq. Khaleq had come to Kuwait from Egypt in the 1960s, a period when many Egyptian Islamists moved to the Gulf to teach in order to escape government persecution. This persecution persisted until Egyptian clerics like Omar Abdel Rahman, who led the Islamic Group, declared the state itself to be the enemy. This sort of radical Islam was a product of Egyptian prisons, and when these Egyptians were encouraged to take their struggle to Afghanistan they clashed with Abdallah Azzam, who emphasized the importance of fighting defensive jihads. Egyptians such as Abdel Rahman and his followers sought to fight Arab regimes first. Their followers were the takfiri par excellence, sometimes viewing all of society as the enemy and demonstrating a willingness to ruthlessly kill civilians. Maqdisi was influenced by this school of thought and brought it back home with him.
    Hudheifa Azzam met Maqdisi in Pakistan and was similarly unimpressed. Like Zarqawi, he said, “Maqdisi is also an ordinary person,” adding that at first Maqdisi had condemned his father as an infidel, but after Azzam was assassinated he apologized and said he had been mistaken. Upon arriving in Jordan in 1991, Maqdisi led Jordan’s Salafi movement, composed of Jordanian and Palestinian Salafis who had fought or trained in Afghanistan. Maqdisi called his organization Tawhid (Monotheism), but he later changed the name to Bayat al-Imam (Oath of Loyalty to the Leader). He traveled around Jordan with his book Milat Ibrahim (The Creed of Abraham), which was the most important source for Jordanian Jihadis. The book, also available on Maqdisi’s website, discusses some of the main duties the followers of Ibrahim have, such as demonstrating that they are innocent of any infidelity and improper worship of God and declaring infidels to be infidels. Just as infidels are infidels with God, the followers of Ibrahim have to be infidels with the gods and laws of the infidels. Likewise, they have to demonstrate hatred and enmity for the infidels until they return to Allah and renounce their previous infidelity. The followers of Ibrahim also have to renounce tyrants and impious or un-Islamic governments, call them infidels, and call all the people who “worship” them infidels as well. These tyrants include stone idols, the sun, the moon, trees, graves (a reference to the Sufi and Shiite practice of visiting the graves of saints and imams), and laws made by men. It is the duty of the sect of Ibrahim to expose the infidelity of all these forms of worship and idolatry and manifest their hatred and enmity to them as well as showing how silly these things were. Infidels, tyrants, and oppressors all deserve hate and public condemnation.
    According to Maqdisi, democracy was a heretical religion constituting the rejection of Allah, monotheism, and Islam. It was a bida (innovation), placing something above the word of God and ignoring the laws of Islam. Only God could legislate laws, and God’s laws had to be applied to the apostates, the fornicators, thieves, alcohol consumers, unveiled women, and the obscene. Maqdisi held that the regimes that ruled Muslims were un-Islamic and illegitimate. Therefore, Muslims did not owe them obedience and should fight them to establish a true Islamic state.
    When Zarqawi returned to Jordan, he sought out former mujahideen he had met in Afghanistan, including Maqdisi. In the summer of 1993 Zarqawi visited Muhamad Abu Muntasar Wasfi. “He sat there, where you are,” Wasfi said, pointing to the pillow I was resting on. We sat in his cold guest room as his sons brought in sweet tea and came in to replenish our glasses. Wasfi stroked a cat that wandered in. His children screamed and fought in the next room. His youngest boy, Mudhafer, came in to ask him for some money. “I like to call him Abu Musab al-Khalaylah,” Wasfi told me about Zarqawi. “Abu Musab had heard of me. He was a simple Muslim who wanted to serve Islam. He didn’t stay long here, and the next day he came with another guy. We sat and we spoke about our hopes and dreams and ambitions to establish the caliphate and raise the flag of jihad against the enemies of Islam everywhere. I disagreed with him on some strategic issues, like his view of Israel and Palestine. He didn’t have an idea of making jihad against Jews and Israel. Abu Musab wanted to change Arab regimes.”
    Zarqawi invited Wasfi to join Bayat al-Imam and offered him the position of emir, or commander, from the Arabic word amr, meaning “to order.” Wasfi joined but refused the position, claiming that because he was Palestinian he would be subjected to greater retribution by the Jordanian authorities, who were more lenient on Jordanians. Maqdisi, Zarqawi, and Wasfi led the group, limiting their initial activities to proselytizing. “We had no ability to make jihad,” Wasfi admitted, “but despite the lack of ability it didn’t mean we should stop.” Maqdisi had seven grenades from Kuwait, which he gave “to some brothers to make operations in Palestine to kill Israelis,” Wasfi said. “The brothers were arrested, and the government uncovered the organization and arrested the leaders, but before that we were fugitives for four months. We were arrested and tortured.” Wasfi claims to have suffered “sleep deprivation, beatings, tearing off beards.” As a result he has rheumatism and his knees often hurt; he couldn’t kneel properly when he prayed for the first year after his release. “When we were put in group prison, we worked on expanding the organization inside and outside the jail. It was my job to organize prisoners. Jail was very good for the movement. Jail enhanced the personalities of prisoners and let them know how large was the cause they believed in. Inside jail is a good environment to get supporters and proselytize. Inside jail is oppression.” Wasfi admitted they recruited from criminal ranks. “Even the worst criminal is still repressed because they did not impose Islamic law on him, and when you talk to them with Islam they see the difference between a system of punishment made by humans and a system made by God. This made them supporters of the Islamic call and enemies of oppression.”
    The Jordanian authorities placed all the Islamist prisoners together and in isolation from other prisoners. They formed relationships, exchanged ideas and knowledge, and established trust in one another. They continued organizing jihadists, especially former criminals like Zarqawi, until their release from the Sawaqa prison in a 1999 amnesty. Wasfi was the movement’s spokesman. He explained that even while in prison Zarqawi and Maqdisi reached an outside audience, influencing people in the various cities where they were imprisoned. By then, the awkward and solemn Zarqawi had begun to bloom in his own jihadi way, while Maqdisi, despite the anger and violence of his ideas, avoided conflict. “Zarqawi was very charismatic,” said Wasfi. “Maqdisi was calm and passive. We were dealing with prison authorities in a very aggressive way, and Zarqawi was tribal, so his tribal position gave him more power than a Palestinian. If your root is pure Jordanian and you have a big tribe, then you have more power. Prisoners liked a strong representative like Zarqawi, and he fought with the guards. He was very harsh and strong when dealing with members of the organization. He prevented them from mixing with other organizations so they would not be influenced by other ideas, and he prevented them from moving around freely in the prison, even me, but I rebelled against him.” Few other jihadis dared to defy Zarqawi save Abdallah Hashaika, who was the emir of the Jordanian Afghans. Zarqawi organized a coup, forcing Maqdisi to hand over control of the movement. When Wasfi told me this, Abu Saad, who was present for the meeting, grew anxious—he didn’t want me to learn of tensions within the movement.
    Zarqawi’s aggressive personality attracted the tough young men imprisoned with him, and Maqdisi was relegated to a theological position, issuing fatwas. Like jihadi Salafis outside prison, the jihadis in Sawaqa were embroiled in internal conflicts, declaring one another infidels. “In prison a disagreement of ideas led to problems,” said Wasfi. He refused to get into the details but added that “Abu Musab had many wrong decisions that I did not accept, like enmity with other groups.” Five months before his release, Wasfi abandoned the movement. After his release he focused on “personal dawa,” or working to spread Salafism on his own. Though officially forbidden to teach, he still does in secret. “After Zarqawi was released, he asked me to work together, but I refused,” Wasfi said.
    The men’s time in prison was as important for the movement as their experiences in Afghanistan were, bonding together those who suffered and giving them time to formulate their ideas. For some it was educational as well. Hudheifa Azzam was impressed with the changes prison wrought in the men. “Maqdisi returned to Jordan from Afghanistan and educated himself,” he told me. “He had a lot of time to read in jail. When I heard Zarqawi speak, I didn’t believe this is the same Zarqawi. Six years in jail gave him a good chance to educate himself.”
    Shortly after his release in 1999, Zarqawi left for Pakistan, where he was temporarily arrested before making it to Afghanistan along with his key followers. Zarqawi was influenced by Egyptian jihadist groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group, which held that the leader should be based outside the country in order to avoid harassment by the mukhabarat. Maqdisi opposed conducting operations within Jordan.
    In Afghanistan Zarqawi found both Al Qaeda and the Taliban insufficiently extreme for him. Zarqawi also criticized Osama bin Laden for not calling Arab governments infidels and attacking them. For Zarqawi, the near enemy was the priority, while for bin Laden it was the far enemy. Hudheifa Azzam explained that bin Laden’s Front for Fighting the Jews and Crusaders, established in 1998, required its members to take an oath of allegiance and to fight rival movements, both of which Zarqawi refused to do. Al Qaeda was far more pragmatic; its members negotiated with Pakistan and Iran. Zarqawi was such a strict Salafi that he condemned the Taliban for lack of piety. He criticized them for not being Salafis, insufficiently imposing Sharia, and recognizing the United Nations, an infidel organization. And he condemned Al Qaeda for associating with the Taliban. Zarqawi established his own camp in the western Afghan city of Herat, near the border with Iran. Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawi made his way through Iran to autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq—a point worth noting, since the Bush administration claimed Zarqawi’s presence in Iraq was proof of an Al Qaeda connection. But Zarqawi linked up with the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam in a region outside Saddam’s reach. With Saddam removed from power on April 9, 2003, Zarqawi had a new failed state to operate in. By the summer of 2003 he had claimed responsibility for the devastating attack against the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad’s Canal Hotel. Zarqawi allied himself with Ansar al-Sunna, the reconstituted Ansar al-Islam, which was composed mostly of Iraqis, whereas the members of Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group were mostly foreign Arabs.
    In October 2004, Iraqi intelligence claimed that Zarqawi’s group consisted of 1,000 to 1,500 fighters, foreign and Iraqi. Zarqawi’s inner circle was made up of nine emirs, all of whom were non-Iraqi and close friends. The movement had stored weapons in secret depots in Iraq.
    Their plan was to turn Iraq into hell for all its residents, to prevent an elected government from taking power, and to create a civil war between Sunnis and the hated Shiites. Zarqawi’s group was responsible for the gruesome videotaped beheadings of foreigners and Iraqis accused of collaborating with the occupation. Their bombs slaughtered masses of Shiites as well.
    Though Zarqawi had run his own camp independently of bin Laden in Afghanistan, in October 2004 he swore an oath of allegiance to Al Qaeda, renaming his organization Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers and also joining the Salafiya al-Mujahedia, or Salafi Mujahideen, movement in Iraq. Bin Laden soon announced that Zarqawi was the head of Al Qaeda’s operations in Iraq. Either Bin Laden wanted to co-opt a rival jihadi group that was getting most of the attention and actually confronting the Americans, or Zarqawi needed the Saudi financier’s help, or at least the connection with the hero of international jihad, in order to attract more foreign fighters and support. On December 9, 2004, Zarqawi’s military committee issued a statement about the upcoming January elections. It addressed “all the parties participating in the elections.” It threatened Shiites around the world for supporting the crusader occupation of Iraq. It called Ayatollah Ali Sistani the greatest collaborator with the crusaders. It condemned the apostate police, national guardsmen, and army for attacking Falluja. It warned the rejectionist Shiites and their political parties, the Kurdish pesh merga, the Christians, and the hypocrites such as the Islamic Party that the Tawhid movement would increase attacks on them.
    Though Al Qaeda under bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had not made Shiites their targets and did not publicly condemn them, Zarqawi held that Shiites were the most evil of mankind. He compared them to a snake, a scorpion, and an enemy spy, like the thirteenth-century cleric Ibn Taimiya, the father of Wahhabism and Salafism. Shiites were polytheists who worshiped at graves and shrines, he argued. They were to be avoided at all costs. They could not be married, they could not bear witness, and animals they slaughtered could not be eaten. Zarqawi defended operations that caused Muslims to die. Martyrdom operations, as he called suicide bombings, were sanctified by Muslim scholars, and defending Islam was even more important than defending the lives of Muslims.
    Zarqawi reserved special hatred for the Jordanian monarchy and security forces. He sought to delegitimize the Hashemite kingdom and its claim to power based on its descent from the Prophet Muhammad. It was true that King Abdullah was a descendant of Muhammad, but through Abu Lahab, the Prophet’s uncle, who had fought against him. This claim was first made in 1995 by two Jordanian brothers from the al-Awamli family, who sent out a mass fax condemning the regime. They were shot in their homes following a confrontation with Jordanian police. Zarqawi’s confrontation with Jordan culminated in the November 9, 2005, attacks, dubbed by Jordanians “our 9/11,” in which almost all the victims were Jordanians or Palestinians. By this point his actions were proving too much even for the most radical to stomach.
    Hudheifa Azzam viewed Zarqawi and his followers as “against everybody, even themselves. The followers of Abdallah Azzam opposed killing civilians and conducting operations in Muslim countries, he told me. “Our militant activities are only against the military,” he said. “No one can give the green light to kill an innocent human being. In 9/11 and 7/7, innocent people were killed.” Hudheifa also opposed targeting Shiites. “Abdallah Azzam said Shiites are Muslims,” he told me, “and even if they are not Muslims, their blood is still protected.”


    The war in Iraq galvanized young admirers of Zarqawi and other mujahideen, who frequented jihadi websites and Internet chat rooms, where they could watch filmed encomiums to their heroes and violent depictions of their latest exploits. There were several groups of young men on trial in Jordan when I visited, all failed jihadis, but perhaps more important than succeeding in their quixotic and ill-planned schemes was the time spent in Jordanian prisons, where they could meet their heroes. Like inner-city fans of hip-hop in the United States, where time in jail could be a rite of passage that established street credibility, for these young men in Jordan, jail time proved they were tough enough and dedicated to the cause.
    On January 10 I attended another hearing for the ten young men from Irbid. The only two witnesses for the prosecution were set to testify. The courtroom was heavy with blue uniformed security officers. As the judge spoke, the prisoners swaggered and laughed. The first witness was Lieutenant Saud, clad in a motorcycle jacket. He put his hand above a Koran and swore to tell the truth, then stated that he had received information about a group of dangerous terrorists near the Syrian border and was ordered to arrest them. Upon questioning by the defense he admitted that he had found no weapons in their possession. The second witness, with long hair and a long beard, was accused of selling the defendants a Kalashnikov. The prosecutor read the witness’s confession, but the witness renounced it, claiming he had never sold any weapons and explaining that the mukhabarat had threatened him and ordered him to lie. The judge ordered him rearrested for perjury. Ashen-faced, he was led away as the prisoners in the cage shouted “Allahu Akbar! The way of God is jihad! God is your master and America is their master! Bush is your master! You have the worst master!” All the accused claimed to have been tortured, and all renounced their confessions. As the session ended the prisoners shouted, “This session we just wanted to hear the testimony, but in the next session we will teach them!”
    “Most people here hate and hate and hate the U.S. administration,” attorney Samih Khreis told me. “And most people, if anybody has the opportunity to explode the White House, they would.” Khreis often represented Jordanians accused of terrorism; his clients had included Azmi al-Jayusi, a close Zarqawi associate, as well as members of Bayat al-Imam and Jeish Muhammad. A high-ranking member of the Jordanian bar association, Khreis remembered seeing mujahideen recruiters on the streets of Amman in the 1980s, working with the support of the Jordanian government and inviting young Jordanians to join the jihad in Afghanistan. “Governments taught them these ideas, Salafi, takfiri, to push them to Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, and after the jihad they returned and they compared the government’s conduct with what they had taught them, so according to this thinking the governments were infidels. What happens daily motivates anybody to go to jihad. The magic turned against the magician. When they were against Soviets they were good, but against USA they are terrorists?”
    Although in the past most recruits to the jihad were uneducated and poor, he said, “after the war in Iraq there was a large increase, and many educated men joined, like engineers. This was new. Most men going to Iraq now are educated and from Irbid, and most are Jordanians, they come from good families.” He added that most families of accused terrorists were proud of their sons. Most of them were beaten and tortured during their interrogations, he told me. “Electric torture, sleep deprivation, being tied by hands so you are on your toes. They do it to get confessions.” Khreis’s youngest client was an eighteen-year-old jihad hopeful. “I take these cases because the American government is against them, and I am not with the USA, and the Jordanian government wants to satisfy USA.” Like many Jordanians, Khreis believed Zarqawi was not responsible for the November 9, 2005, hotel bombings in Amman. “The hotel bombings were done by the Mossad, maybe the CIA is involved. There is a secret agreement between the Jordanian government and the USA to bring American forces here to attack Syria, so they want to prepare people for the attack on Syria.”
    An insider in the Royal Court who studied Jordanian attitudes explained such beliefs as shanateh, or schadenfreude. “Whatever is shanateh to America, we like it.” A June 2005 Pew poll found that 60 percent of Jordanians trusted bin Laden and 50 percent supported violence to get rid of non-Muslim influence. The report stunned the Jordanian government. “We said, No way, our people are not like that,” the insider said. But when the Jordanian government conducted its own research it found similar responses. “Even if we assume the Pew poll is exaggerated, maybe 25 percent trust him very much and 35 percent trust him somewhat. The Pew poll is exaggerated, but if Zarqawi wants to recruit here, how many does he need? Even if one-half of 1 percent join, he’s okay.” Despite the support Zarqawi and bin Laden received in the polls, the insider believed it did not reflect a true radicalization; it was merely shanateh. “When it comes to Israel, we are helpless,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of Arabs, and we can’t hurt Israel or America. So we can be happy with what is happening to America in Iraq.”
    This inside source also blamed the Jordanian government’s tolerance of Salafism. “This is an appeasement from the security services. The church got them to ban The Da Vinci Code, but in Abdali you can buy Salafi books. Since the ’70s they are turning a blind eye.” He added that the requirements for studying Islamic law at the University of Jordan were lower than for any other subject. “Sharia students are the ones who get the worst scores and can’t get into other schools, the ones with no critical thinking skills. The Sharia school in the university accepts the dumbest students. They tell them, ‘All other majors are closed to you. Become a preacher.’” There are more than three thousand mosques in Jordan, he told me, but one-tenth of them lack a regular imam, which means that “anyone can stand up and do the Friday sermon.” In addition, he said, “1,450 imams earn less than one hundred dinars a month, so you can buy them easily. So the quality of the preachers is low.”
    A Jordanian woman who ran youth empower ment and education programs throughout the Middle East worried that recruits were drawn to Salafism because “they are discouraged and depressed. Across the whole region youth lack dreams because they have been repressed by the system. It’s not just poverty. Wealthy individuals are joining the jihad. There is a lack of hope and dreams. The youth feel they are of no value to society and become a burden, so of course they are attracted to these extreme ideologies.”
    Muhammad Abu Rumman, a Jordanian journalist specializing in Islamic movements and a former Muslim Brother himself, attributed the attraction of Salafism to hopelessness. “The political environment and conditions make them feel bad,” he told me. “They have no hope for the future with the political system here, so they try by themselves to do what the government cannot do. They are victims of conditions in Jordan and the Arab world. Political consciousness is born in bad political, economic, social conditions. There is no religious reform. Religious understanding is not supporting democracy and human rights. It always says all the bad things are because we are far from Islam and we don’t obey Allah so the U.S. invaded Iraq.” He explained that the Muslim Brotherhood, which was Jordan’s only opposition movement but refrained from questioning the government’s legitimacy, “represents the middle class and shares in the system and government, but in their religious speech they use the same language as Salafis. These youth do what people say and don’t do. We all speak of Iraq. The preachers speak of Iraq, and of jihad in Iraq and Palestine. The king would be in danger if he tried to stop this. All of the society speaks the same language.”
    Hassan Abu Haniyeh, a Jordanian researcher specializing in Salafism and a former reformist Salafi, agreed: “The main motivation for terrorists is unemployment and poverty. The people are between the hammer of the Americans and the anvil of exclusion from participating. If you open an office for volunteers for the jihad in Iraq here you would take a million, and from the rest of the Arab world you would take millions.” Abu Haniyeh complained that the American project of reform in the Arab world had given democracy a bad name. “The U.S. terminated us, the reformers,” he said, “because now the word ‘reform’ is a bad word, an American word. If people hear the word ‘reform, ’ they think of Iraq, which became a model of violence. And now the reform and the reformers are isolated from people, people don’t like them. Now the reform project became empty from the inside because the replacement of our regimes is very terrifying, so there is nothing left, only extremist talk.”
    Yasar Qartarneh was a sharp, raucous, slightly overweight man who jokingly called himself an Islamist and liked to provoke. Qatarneh worked for Jordan’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, a think tank within the Jordanian government funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Terrorism is linked to events on both sides of the border,” he said. “For fifty years Islamist activists and politicians were the regime’s main source of legitimacy.” Now the chickens had come home to roost. He was concerned that just as America had given reform a bad name, so had Zarqawi tarnished resistance. “We have to draw a line which Zarqawi, Goddamn him, blurred. It was very legitimate to fight occupation. Zarqawi blurred the line, and now you can’t distinguish if what he does is terrorism or freedom fighting.”
    The solution, according to Abu Rumman, was in Iraq. “If Sunnis played a political role in Iraq, Zarqawi would disappear, because who will support him?” Jordan was in a difficult position, watching its neighbor to the east nervously. In December 2004, King Abdullah warned of a “Shiite crescent” from Lebanon to Iraq to Iran that would destabilize the entire region. Iraq’s Shiites had demonstrated against Jordan in the past, condemning the country for its steady trickle of suicide bombers who crossed into Iraq and committed atrocities against Shiite civilians. In September 2005 Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned that a civil war in Iraq would destabilize the entire region and complained that the Americans had handed Iraq over to Iran for no reason. From the Jordanian and Saudi perspective, indirectly supporting Sunni violence in Iraq was advantageous, because it would give Iraq’s Sunnis greater political leverage. Jordan was dependent on the Saudis. In 2007, when the Jordanian state was bankrupt, the Saudis paid Jordanian civil servants’ salaries. Compounding these difficulties, Jordan’s fragile authoritarian regime and precarious balance of Jordanian and Palestinian was being tested by the massive influx of refugees from Iraq.


    “YOU HAVE NOW ENTERED IRAQ,” MY TAXI DRIVER JOKED. WE HAD, in fact, just entered Seyida Zeinab, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus built around the eponymous shrine to Zeinab, granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. This shrine city, long a destination for Shiite pilgrims, had become home to many Shiites among the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who had sought refuge in Syria from the hell their home had become in Iraq. “Everybody is Iraqi,” one taxi driver joked after he stopped to ask several people on the street for directions to a mosque and they replied in Iraqi Arabic that they did not know. “There are more Iraqis than Syrians.” Another, after complaining that the Iraqi refugees had driven up prices and insisting that there were four million of them in his city, explained, “Anybody who has a war comes to us: Sudan, Somalia.”
    It was early 2006, the seventh day of the Muslim month of Muharram, and Shiites around the world were preparing for its tenth day, known as Ashura, in which they commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, brother of Zeinab, slain in 680 in a battle that crystallized the division between Sunni and Shiite Islam. A vast commercial district had grown around the shrine. Built at first to house and care for the pilgrims and seminary students, the district had become home to so many Iraqis that walking through its streets I was transported back to Baghdad—to Kadhimiya, the Shiite commercial district built around the shrine to Imam Kadhim. “It’s like they froze Iraq in 2003 and put it in a museum,” exclaimed photojournalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad, who accompanied me. And indeed, we were both struck by the feeling of being in a safe Baghdad. After nearly three years in the war-torn country, I had started to fear Iraqi men; all strangers were potential kidnappers.
    All around us the streets bustled with men speaking Arabic in the Iraqi dialect, overflowing indifferently onto the road nicknamed “Iraqi Street.” The walls were festooned with posters from Iraqi elections past. Inside a bakery I saw a poster of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, father of populist cleric Muqtada. There was a mobile phone shop named after the Euphrates River and barbershops called Karbala and Son of Iraq. Ali Hamid, a Sunni barber from Baghdad’s Shiite district of Shaab, had been working in the same shop since 2003; he explained to me that many barbers had fled Iraq to Syria because Islamic radicals had forced them to close their shops. “In Iraq there is a sectarian war,” he told me. “Here we all get along.” He attributed this to the vigilant Syrian authorities. “Praise God, thanks to the Syrian government we have no problems. If anything happens, they deal with it. As shop owners we are not allowed to talk about sectarianism. Word spread to all business owners. You live in a different country, not your country, you have to respect their rules.” He added that Iraqi refugees feared the Syrian regime anyway. They had fled to Syria looking for a place to live and were tired of problems. In 2006 Ali began seeing large numbers of Iraqis coming. He noticed many more tea stands springing up and more pedestrians crowding the district.
    In one alley, not far away, I found the famous Baghdad restaurant Patchi al-Hati. Patchi is sheep’s head, the meal I have dreaded most in my years in Iraq. The restaurant’s owner had left Iraq four months earlier, “because of the terrorism and looting,” the chef explained over an immense steaming pot boiling with the pungent smell. Anybody with money in Iraq was a target for kidnappers and extortionists. “They heard we were a famous restaurant and thought we were millionaires,” he told me.
    In another alley I walked past the field office for Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, guarded by plainclothes Syrian security officials. Haeri had been a student of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr during his exile in Iran. Following the overthrow of Saddam’s regime, Haeri had urged his followers to kill Baathists. He had once been close to Muqtada, but the two had fallen out. Further down the street I found the office of Muqtada’s representative, also guarded by Syrian security officials, who were friendly with the Sadr officials and zealous in demanding I provide official permission before entering. That evening I attended the recitation of Hussein’s story. Dozens of shoes were piled on the stairway and in a wooden shelf outside a room where men clad in customary Mahdi Army garb—black shirts with black head scarves or headbands—sat listening to Sheikh Ali wail the story of Hussein’s bravery and betrayal, ending with the slaughter of his family and finally his martyrdom. The men began to sob, burying their heads in their hands or between their knees. For Sheikh Ali, the story of perfidy and resistance to tyranny was a parable for his community’s current oppression, as he saw it at the hands of Americans and Sunnis. “They are doing the same thing with the poor children and people on the streets,” he cried out. He concluded by asking God to end the Americans’ occupation, free their hostages in Baghdad, and bless the Mahdi Army.
    Sheikh Raed al-Kadhimi was Muqtada’s representative in Syria. He blamed the American occupiers, along with “people who operate in Iraq under the umbrella of the Americans and former Baathists who aim to destabilize Iraq” and takfiris, for the refugee flow into Syria. “They do killings and kidnappings,” he said, “and now attacks happen with mortar shells from both sides, so people resort to a safe place and they come to Syria.” Sheikh Raed was proud of his leader Muqtada, who he claimed “began the revolt against the Americans and fought them. He made it difficult for the American army.” On the eve of the tenth of Muharram a procession organized by Sheikh Raed’s office gathered. Dressed in black, they were led by youths wielding immense wooden flagpoles with different colored flags that they struggled to wave from side to side. Others carried framed pictures of Muqtada and his father. It was a latmiya procession, in which the men chanted songs lamenting Hussein’s martyrdom and vowing fealty to him. “We have chosen our destiny,” they sang, “we are the sons of Sadr, soldiers for the Mahdi.” The thousands of onlookers waited until dawn for the culmination of the events. By four in the morning hundreds of men dressed in white robes had assembled in tents. They carried short swords, which they cleaned in buckets of soap. They patted their heads for several minutes, perhaps to numb the surface or steel their nerves. After performing the dawn prayer, they lined up and, led by trumpeters and drummers, began a march through alleys lined with shrouded women looking on. The drums and trumpets rang out a martial beat and were followed by chants of “Haidar!” another name for Ali, father of Hussein and Zeinab. The men, and many boys, swung their swords rhythmically, hitting their foreheads and drawing blood, which soon drenched their faces and robes. As onlookers filmed the scene on their phones and the sun rose above them, the men danced in bloody ecstasy. When they reached the shrine the event ended suddenly, and people returned to their homes or hotel rooms. In the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala and Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, I had seen these events end in explosions and terror attacks. In Damascus it felt almost anticlimactic.

The Displaced

    As the violence in Iraq caused its population to hemorrhage, Iraqis fled to wherever they could. Millions were displaced, some seeking shelter in Kurdistan, others in safer neighborhoods, cleansed of minorities, or safer provinces. Others fled to Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Denmark, and anywhere else they could. During the civil war between one thousand and three thousand Iraqis entered Syria through the border at Al Tanf, passing through the volatile Anbar province, risking death at the hands of militias and the American military.
    “It’s the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948,” said Kristele Younes of the Washington-based Refugees International. “Not only is it a regional crisis but it can become international, since Iraqis want to be resettled,” she said. “What’s especially shocking to me is the level of extreme and indiscriminate violence. Every civilian is at risk. This crisis is growing at almost unprecedented numbers. Fifty thousand are displaced a month, and tens of thousands are leaving. The international response to the refugee crisis was extremely weak until recently. They had not acknowledged the crisis. The only agency that had responded was [the United Nations High Commission for Refugees], and they were doing so with extremely meager resources. One reason why the response has been so weak is because the international community was waiting for U.S. leadership. The U.S. sparked the conflict and should be answering for the humanitarian consequences of the war as well as the political ones.”
    Those who survived the perilous journey were met by surprisingly friendly Syrian officials led by a captain overwhelmed by the desperate refugees. A thin, energetic man with an air of desperation, the captain politely listened to the stories of hundreds of Iraqis every day, asking for exceptions to be made, for their expired or potentially forged passports to be accepted, and protested. “Wallahi ma fini,” he would say, “By God, I can’t.” “Ma fini, ma fini, ma fini,” until finally he would break and let in the despairing Iraqis. He explained that often his border post was overwhelmed because American convoys or military operations would close down the road in the Anbar province, and when it was reopened huge numbers of Iraqis would descend upon them at once. Dusty and dazed Iraqi families gathered inside and outside his small, drab concrete building, filling out the applications, waiting for their names to be called.
    One man waiting for his name to be called, Abu Ibrahim, told me he had left because of the violence. “There isn’t an Iraqi here who wants to enter and hasn’t lost a brother or father or received a threat,” he told me. A Sunni from Seidiya, he complained that the Americans did nothing. “In my neighborhood, the head of the city council was killed just three meters away from one of their checkpoints. His family went to the checkpoint and said, ‘How come he was killed just three meters from you?’ And they said, ‘It is not our duty to go and check why he was killed.’ We don’t want Iraq anymore—neither itself, not its oil or gas. Let the whole world know that we Iraqis want nothing from Iraq. All we want is to be left alone. The Iraqi leaders go to neighboring countries and ask them to repatriate us to Iraq. Why? So that they will rule and slaughter us.” He was called Omar, a common Sunni name that was dangerous to possess. “Omar is not allowed to enter Baghdad,” he said. “There is no government in Iraq,” just “theft and killing.”
    Sitting in a column of minivans and trucks piled with suitcases, I found one old woman waiting for her family to return with their passports. She was from Ghazaliya, in western Baghdad. She did not require much prompting to vent her fury. “Is this democracy, to tell people kill and displace people? Walking in the street with fear? Our situation in Iraq is miserable, worse than miserable. Why is the world silent about Iraq? I don’t know. What have we gained from the oil? Nothing. Even in winter we have no kerosene to put in the stove. There is no gas, no security. There is only killing and explosions. We ran from explosions in the streets. The children do not go to school. Even the university students don’t go to school. All stay at home.” It was her second trip to Syria. She had returned to Baghdad to bring more of her family, which would now reach around thirty people. She began to cry as I parted with her. “Please get our voices to the world,” she begged as her voice broke. “What did the United Nations do for us? What did America do for us? Why all of this?”
    Past the fortunate Iraqis who had made it out was the no man’s land between the Iraqi and Syrian borders, a desolate moonscape stretching several kilometers. Off an escarpment the cold wind battered a collection of neatly ordered tents. Three hundred and fifty Palestinian refugees were marooned here, facing extermination in Iraq but unable to enter Syria. They were refugees for the second time. Most of Iraq’s Palestinians had come from three villages—Ijzim, Jaba, and Ein Ghazal, together known as the Little Triangle—which were near Haifa in northern Palestine. As part of the plan to cleanse Israel of its Palestinians, Israeli soldiers bombarded the villages from the air, killing hundreds of civilians. Ground forces then attacked the villages and killed hundreds more civilians. The Little Triangle was defended by a motley group of farmers armed with Ottoman rifles. In July 1948 they were defeated. Many men were summarily executed, while the other inhabitants were expelled to Jenin after the Israeli soldiers relieved them of their money and jewelry and looted their villages. Other Iraqi Palestinians had come from the nearby village of Tira. In one incident, twenty-eight of Tira’s civilians were burned alive when they asked their captors for water and were doused in gasoline instead. Others had come from Ayn Hawd, which was also attacked and cleansed under orders of the Israeli leadership in 1948. Iraqi troops fighting as part of a small contingent of Arab volunteers who had come to defend the Palestinians bused them from Jenin to Iraq. By 1949 up to five thousand Palestinian refugees had been granted asylum in Iraq. A minority of Iraq’s Palestinians had lived in Kuwait from the time of their expulsion and moved to Iraq following the Gulf War, when Kuwait evicted them. By 2003 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there were up to thirty-four thousand Palestinians in Iraq. Today there are only an estimated twelve thousand left. Thousands fled using forged Iraqi passports. In at least one case, a Palestinian from Iraq landed in Cairo’s airport using an Iraqi passport. Because his body bore the scars of his torture at the hands of Iraqi militias, he was resettled with the help of UN officials in a third country.
    Under Saddam the Palestinians had received subsidized housing and, in the eyes of Shiites, preferential treatment. Many of these homes were owned by Shiites. Immediately following the American invasion the Palestinians were among the first victims of reprisals by the inchoate Shiite militias. They were expelled from their homes and often ended up in tent communities or in the Baladiyat apartment complexes. The new Interior Ministry revoked the Palestinians’ identity papers. They were now obliged to register in Baghdad once a month. But to approach the Interior Ministry was to risk kidnapping, torture, and murder. The Palestinians became illegal, but they could not leave. Their neighborhoods were shelled by Shiite militias, and their men were kidnapped by Shiite death squads. They were being systematically attacked, and they were warned by Shiite leaders that they faced death in Iraq. An Iraqi diplomat in Cairo gave me the typical prejudiced view. He denied that Palestinians were being targeted, insisting that they lived better than most Iraqis. He accused them of supporting Al Qaeda and building car bombs in their neighborhoods. The U.S. State Department was pushing the Iraqi Kurds to accept the Palestinians, but Kurdish officials steadfastly refused, as did the Syrians and Jordanians. “They want to make a point that the solution for Palestinians is not settlement in the region,” a United Nations official explained to me.
    In May 2006 the Palestinians began arriving at Al Tanf, on the Syrian border. Most came as families. When I visited in February 2007 there were 93 women and 135 children. In the back of the camp there was an area for single men. One tent said “Al Tanf Mosque.” That month eight Palestinians with university degrees were taken to Damascus, where they received ten days of training by the UN before returning to open a school for seventy-five children. This was controversial among some of the camp residents, who feared it would make the camp look more permanent. One tent functioned as a bakery, another as a grocery store. The residents were helped by UNHCR and Palestinian organizations in Syria. The Syrian government, already burdened with four hundred thousand Palestinian refugees and a similar number of Iraqis, was hesitant to open the door to thousands more Palestinians. Syrian officials believed that they should not be the only ones sharing the responsibility, but UN officials believed the Palestinians could be absorbed without great difficulty and that the Syrians were also making a political statement about the need to solve the Palestinian refugee crisis. But this debate came at the immediate expense of the desperate refugees, and there were five hundred more stranded on the Iraqi side of the border (known as Al Walid), protected by a local tribal sheikh but still vulnerable to the depredations of the Iraqi Security Forces, who had attacked them in the past. Iraqi Security Forces even entered Al Tanf twice attempting to kidnap people, but they failed. The camp was freezing in the winter, and rains flooded the tents and washed them away, leaving the refugees without shelter for days at a time. During the summer temperatures exceeded fifty degrees Celsius. Children suffered from diarrhea and other diseases from the dirty water. “Al Tanf is a refugee camp on a highway in between borders,” said Younes of Refugees International. “There is a lack of funds and very little assistance. People are trading their personal items with trucks for food.”
    Night fell quickly on the frigid camp. In one dark tent, lit only by a small lantern, I met several men who told me their stories, their voices barely audible over the wind. Hussein, a round young man with a melancholy baby face who wore a tan Adidas tracksuit, was originally from Ein Hawd in Palestine. He had lived with his Iraqi wife and daughter in Baghdad’s Hurriya district, a Shiite militia stronghold, where he worked as a taxi driver. “In Iraq before the war we lived without problems,” he told me. “The problems started in Iraq as the American occupation began.” Hussein was first threatened in 2005, when a letter was sent to his house containing a bullet and two drops of blood. “If you do not leave Iraq, this will be your fate,” the letter said. A second death threat was signed by the Badr Brigade, the Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia. “They threatened me to leave because I am a Palestinian,” he said. “They think that because we are Palestinians the whole world helps us. But that’s not true. If we had an easy life, I wouldn’t be working as taxi driver and working in restaurants sometimes. They blew up my car. Then they blew up my house.”
    Two of Hussein’s uncles had been kidnapped and tortured to death with power drills, a specialty of Iraq’s Shiite militias. The kidnappers had demanded one hundred thousand dollars in ransom, but Hussein’s family did not have the money, and the next day they received a phone call informing them that his uncles’ bodies were in the morgue. Their bodies had been mutilated: drills had been driven through their bodies from the neck to the belly, and their genitals had been cut off. Hussein’s family was given a CD with a film of the gruesome murders. “We couldn’t even have a funeral because they said, ‘If you do it we will blow you up.’ We had to bury them at night.” Hussein was also attacked in his car by a Shiite militia he believed to be the Badr Brigade; he still bore the scars. In March 2006 he heard the sounds of attackers in his house. With his wife and daughter he escaped by way of their roof to a neighbor’s roof. The attackers then blew up his house. Two months later, Hussein and his family attempted to flee to Syria after hearing rumors that it was accepting Palestinians. Stranded between the two borders, his wife’s family got her to divorce him and she returned to Baghdad.
    Ayman was a vegetable seller from Baladiyat. He still spoke in the Palestinian dialect he had inherited from his family, which had been expelled from Palestine when his father was five years old. “My grandfather was my age when he was expelled,” Ayman said. “Now it wasn’t Jews who expelled us, it was Arabs.” Shiite militiamen had attacked his house and killed his mother and brother. Ayman had fled with his wife and two children and hoped to live anywhere as long as it was safe.
    Yasser and his father had been arrested by the Iraqi National Guard. “They accused me of being Palestinian,” he said. “They said, ‘You are a Palestinian terrorist’ and ‘You Arabs, you destroyed us.’” The two were imprisoned for sixteen days and tortured with electricity. Yasser’s nails were torn out. Then his seventy-three-year-old father was electrocuted to death in front of him. The National Guardsmen then gave him twenty-four hours to leave Iraq, and in June 2006 he and his family arrived in Al Tanf. “We paid to get my father’s body,” he cried, “but they gave me the wrong body.” The other men stared down silently as he sobbed. “All I want to know is where my father’s body is.”
    Another man was taken out of his car along with six other Palestinians. All were shot and killed, but he survived. He was denied treatment in the first hospital because he was Palestinian. After he was released from the second hospital, he fled to the border. “Even in another camp right on the border, the Iraqi army came to the camp and arrested five of us for eight days,” he said. “They tortured us during that time and robbed us of everything we had. They even took my wedding ring. In Baghdad also they took our houses and cars. Here we have a tragic life, we have gone through cold, heat, dust, and this wind. It is a very bad life. But what is the reason? It is only because we are Palestinians and carry with us Palestinian travel documents. Now we want to live anywhere that is safe and secure. Anywhere. In Iraq they kill us because of our identity.”
    One family in Al Tanf received a CD with a film of their daughter’s gang rape and murder by Shiite militiamen as their final warning to leave Iraq. Three men in the camp with the Sunni name Omar had been followed merely for being called Omar and had survived assassination attempts. The camp provided scant protection, and some men who went close to the Iraqi border to purchase vegetables from locals were captured by the Iraqi National Guard. “They think we are Saddamists,” one man told me. “The American occupation didn’t protect us.” Palestinians who went to get relatives from the morgue were also kidnapped. One baby was born in Al Tanf, and she was named Khiyam, meaning “tent” in Arabic. “We went backward sixty years,” one man lamented. “We were born in tents, and our children will be the same. Is this our legacy?”
    According to a UN official, Arab governments were reluctant to call the Iraqis refugees because the term is associated with the Palestinians. “The Palestinians are a people without a land,” he said. “Iraqis still have a country, although I think it will break up like the former Yugoslavia. It is not positive to be associated with the Palestinians.” Jordan, with half its population made up of Palestinian refugees, was afraid of a second refugee wave.
    No discussion of refugees in the Middle East can begin without addressing the Palestinian experience. Between 1947 and 1949 up to 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from Palestine by Jewish militias; hundreds of Palestinian villages were wiped off the map. They were dispersed throughout the region, unable to return home and unable to assimilate fully into the countries to which they fled. They soon organized, forming armed groups and trying to return home. These groups were often manipulated by various governments in the region for their own ends, and some even fought one another. Their presence contributed to the destabilization of several countries, while in places like Lebanon, they were preyed upon by more powerful militias, as we shall see in the next chapter. Their cause became a rallying cry. After 2003, radical groups based in the camps exported fighters to Iraq.

In Damascus

    The flow of fighters into Iraq, of millions of refugees out of Iraq, the smuggling of weapons and even sheep, and the export of dangerous ideas such as sectarianism and jihadism demonstrated that the Iraqi civil war was close to becoming a regional conflict. One factor militating against such a development was the fact that the Iraqi refugees had not settled in camps but instead had been absorbed into cities like Beirut, Damascus, Amman, and Cairo, which made it more difficult to organize or mobilize them, though also more difficult to help or monitor them. Like the Palestinians, most Iraqi refugees may never return home. The decimated Christian and Sabean minorities had left for good. Sunnis from Baghdad and the south, now cleansed and controlled by Shiites, were also likely never to return. Although the Palestinian cause and its initial popularity in the Arab world eased their integration into Syria and elsewhere, and they were tolerated and even welcomed with generosity by the local population in some instances, this goodwill did not last forever. In Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, and elsewhere, it ran out. Jordan and particularly Syria have shown extreme generosity, but they are both straining under the burden.
    Damascus became so full of Iraqis that rent prices soared, driving many refugees as far as Aleppo. One hour away from Damascus, in Qudsiya, I found an Iraqi neighborhood with a “Baghdad Barbershop” and “Iraq Travel Agency.” Off an alley I entered a hastily constructed apartment building, rough and unfinished, cement and cinder blocks thrown together without paint. The carved wooden doors to each apartment were a stark contrast to the grim hallways. Inside I found Dr. Lujai and her five children. At fifteen, Omar was the oldest; the youngest was two years old. Dr. Lujai, a family medicine specialist with her own clinic, had lived in Baghdad with her husband, Dr. Adil, a thoracic surgeon and professor at the medical college. Both were forty-three-year-old Sunnis who originally came from Ana, a town in the Anbar province. They had been married for fifteen years.
    Right after the war Dr. Lujai began to notice changes. Shiite clerics took over many of Baghdad’s hospitals following the postwar looting, and they did not know how to manage a hospital. “They were sectarian from the beginning,” she said, “firing Sunnis, saying they were Baathists. In 2004 the Ministry of Health was given to the Sadr movement, and the minister was only a general practitioner.” Following the 2005 elections the Sadrist ministers initiated what they called a “campaign to remove the Saddamists.” The advisers to the minister of health wore the turbans of clerics and mismanaged the ministry. In hospitals and health centers, walls were covered with posters of Shiite clerics. Traditional Shiite music could often be heard in the halls.
    Sunni doctors began disappearing. Ali al-Mahdawi, who managed the Diyala province’s health department, was said to have gone into the ministry for a meeting and never came out. Several months later, American military raids uncovered secret prisons run by Ministry officials with hundreds of prisoners. Several days after Mahdawi was released, he was murdered on the street. A pharmacist they knew called Ahmed al-Azzawi went in for a meeting with the minister and was killed by his militia.
    Dr. Lujai reported that Sunni patients were accused by Sadrist officials of being terrorists. After the doctors completed their operations, she said, the Interior Ministry’s special police would arrest the patients. Their corpses would then be found in the Baghdad morgue. “This happened tens of times,” she said, to “anybody who came with bullet wounds and wasn’t Shiite.” Dr. Lujai knew of five Sunni doctors and two Christians who were threatened to leave or fired.
    On September 2, 2006, Abu Omar, as Dr. Adil was known, went to work as he usually did in the morning. He had three patients to operate on that day. A fourth came in unexpectedly after he was done, and since no other doctor was available to treat him, Dr. Adil stayed later than usual. He finished work that day at around two in the afternoon. Their home was about fifteen minutes away, on days when the road was open. At 2:15 Abu Omar was driving home when his way was blocked by four cars. Armed men surrounded him and dragged him from his car, taking him to Sadr City. Five hours later his dead body was found on the street, and the next day his body was found in the morgue. I tried to find out the way he was killed, but Dr. Lujai was overcome, crying, and her confused young children looked at her silently. She had asked the Iraqi police to investigate her husband’s murder, but an officer told her, “He is a doctor, he has a degree, and he is a Sunni, so he couldn’t stay in Iraq. That’s why he was killed.” Two weeks later she received a letter printed from a computer ordering her to leave the area.
    On September 24, Dr. Lujai fled with her brother Abu Shama, his wife, and his four children. Her sister had already been threatened, and had fled to Qudsiya. They gave away or sold all their belongings and paid six hundred dollars for the GMCs that carried them to Syria. Because of what happened to her husband, she said, up to twenty other doctors fled. Abu Shama was an engineer and professor at the College of Technology. He had lived in Baghdad’s Khadhra district. In June 2006 a letter was placed under the door in his office ordering him to leave Iraq or be killed. He stopped going to work after that. One of his best friends, a Sunni married to a Shiite, had been killed in front of the college.
    In Qudsiya they paid five hundred dollars a month in rent for the three-bedroom apartment both families shared. Their children were able to attend local schools for free, but Iraqis were not able to work in Syria, so they depended on relatives and savings for their survival. Twenty-five members of their family fled to Syria. Four days before I visited them they heard that a Sunni doctor they knew had been killed in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, where he worked. He had been married to a Shiite woman. “He was a pediatric specialist,” she told me. “We needed him.” The people and government of Syria had been good to them, they agreed, and they did not expect to go back to Iraq. Dr. Lujai did not think Iraq could go back to the way it had been. “It’s a dream to return to our country,” she said.

“First minorities left Iraq, now we get Sunnis targeted by Shiite militias.”

    Jordan had already closed its borders to Iraqis, and Iran required a sponsor for Iraqi refugees, though for obvious reasons most would never think of going to Iran. “Syria is the only open gate for refugees,” said Lorens Jolles of the UNHCR in Damascus. “At one point Syrian society won’t be able to accommodate them,” worried a worker from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Syria, with a population of only nineteen million, has a record of extreme generosity to refugees. It houses four hundred thousand Palestinians expelled from their homeland. During Israel’s July 2006 war against Lebanon, Syria took in up to half a million Lebanese refugees.
    “For us every Iraqi who is here is a refugee,” said Jolles. “This takes into account the generalized violence and targeting of most groups in Iraq. And everybody is in need of protection.” Because Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are not signatories to the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, the Iraqis did not have the right to work—although those with sufficient money could open businesses, and others worked illegally. UNHCR had signed memorandums of understanding with those countries requiring refugees to be resettled in a third country within a year after UNHCR had declared them refugees. UNHCR had to establish a category of “persons of concern” without calling them refugees in order to avoid getting dragged into battle with the national authorities. It therefore gave the Iraqis the opportunity to register for temporary protection, a legal trick to recognize them as having fled a situation of generalized violence for a temporary period of time. In theory this protected them without presenting the host countries with any formal obligations (though Syria had not deported Iraqis, Jordan and Lebanon had). Most Iraqis had not yet registered with the UN for temporary protection, but hundreds could be found lining up in front of the UNHCR office in Damascus in the early hours of the morning. Between February and April 2007 ten thousand Iraqi families, or at least fifty thousand individuals, had made appointments with the UNHCR.
    “First the minorities left Iraq,” a UNHCR official told me, “now we get Sunnis targeted by Shiite militias.” Until February 2006 the majority had been Christians, although Muslims were represented as well, with Sunnis and Shiites equally represented. Starting in March 2006, though, the number of Sunni refugees shot up, far exceeding all other groups; July through September 2006 saw a sharp rise in Sunnis registering. Between January 2005 and the end of February 2007, 58,924 Iraqis registered with UNHCR in Damascus. Forty-two percent of those registered since December 2003 were Sunni, 21 percent were Shiite, and 29 percent were Christian. In January 2007, 3,144 Sunnis and 901 Shiites were registered. In February it was 5,988 Sunnis to 1,570 Shiites. Only the most desperate refugees bothered to register, so the true figures were unknown. Ninety-five percent of those registered with UNHCR were from Baghdad.
    The Shiites were generally single young men, while the rest came as families. For the first two years the Syrians provided free medical care to Iraqis, but they were overwhelmed; in 2005 they ended the practice except for emergencies. Iraqis could attend Syrian public schools provided they were not too crowded, which they often were. Child labor became a problem, since parents were unable to work and children were easier to hide. Children dropped out of school as a result, and Iraqi prostitutes became extremely common. UN screeners reported seeing numerous victims of torture, detention, rape, and kidnapping among newly arrived Iraqis. Most had family members who had been killed, and many were intellectuals.
    “The problems of Iraqis have not come to Syria,” said Jolles, referring to sectarianism. “The [Iraqi] refugee communities don’t integrate, and the government has good control.” But he still had his worries. “They are less manageable and understandable because they are not in camps. One million people are uprooted, and they don’t know what the future has in store for them. It’s normal to have some degree of criminality, violence, and disruption.”
    According to a Western diplomat, the presence of so many Iraqis gave the Syrian government political leverage in Iraq. Nearly every Iraqi political movement was represented in Syria. Historically Syria had accepted Iraqi dissidents such as those from the left wing of the Baath Party, Dawa leaders like Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and even Kurdish independence parties. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan was established in a Damascus restaurant. The Syrians were still playing a complex game. They diplomatically recognized the Iraqi government but also housed members of the former regime, security forces, and Baath Party. They invited Shiite leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr and radical Sunnis close to the resistance, such as Harith al-Dhari of the Association of Muslim Scholars. Syria saw the Iraqi civil war through the prism of Lebanon, thinking it could manage the conflict through its contacts; thus the Syrians were monitoring and cultivating everybody. But there were also dangerous contradictions in Syrian policy. Syria is a majority-Sunni country, but its close ally is Shiite Iran—which, in the eyes of Sunnis in Iraq and the region, sponsored the very militias that were persecuting Iraq’s Sunnis, who were often related to Syria’s Sunnis, especially in the border region. “The Syrian government is very capable of managing those issues,” the Western diplomat assured me, but sectarianism was at its peak in the region, and Syria, which was once a major exporter of fighters to Iraq, may face its own blowback.
    “Their need is enormous,” a top official at UNHCR told me. “The temptation is there. The money from bin Laden is there. If the international community doesn’t help, then the other groups will, and all hell will break loose. Iraqis are sitting in Syria or Jordan, where the Baathists and Wahhabis are strongest. If 1 percent of the two million can be bought, then that is very dangerous. If they stay on the street you will have youth violence or terrorism. If people are in need they turn to crime or terrorism.” He mentioned the North African community of France as a model, some of whom were drawn to Islamic radicalism or terrorism out of frustration and neglect. “They come to the UN and queue at our door for five hours to get a registration card, or they can turn to radical groups for funding,” he said, explaining that the money came from Saudi Arabia to Jordan and was disbursed there. “This problem will be with us for a long time,” he added, shaking his head in frustration.
    Many poor Iraqi refugees settled in the Jaramana district of Damascus. They came to the Ibrahim al-Khalil convent for assistance. The convent was the only white structure amid the graying and incomplete buildings surrounding it, many of which were so hastily thrown together that they were unpainted and lacked glass in the windows. In front of the convent I found a small bakery preparing the typical Iraqi bread known as samun, a thick pita with two pointy ends. The owner, Haidar, had left Iraq three months earlier “because of the occupation,” he told me. In Baquba he had been a sports teacher.
    Sister Malaki, an elderly nun who ran the convent, expressed wonder at how quickly the neighborhood had been built since the Iraqis began showing up. Until 2006 there were no buildings around the convent, she said. It used to take her thirty minutes just to see a taxi on the street, and now she had to wait an hour to find an empty taxi. The first wave arrived in the spring of 2006, she said, but the biggest wave began in the fall of 2006. At first she saw many cases of rape, including boys and girls only ten or twelve years old. “Now it’s mostly cases of extreme poverty and people who will never go back to Iraq,” she said. “They fully reject returning to Iraq. They will die.”
    She had worked in a hospital in Beirut throughout the Lebanese civil war and was seeing similar traumas. “The children have a strong fear,” she said. When asking her for something many children would threaten her, she said. “If you don’t give it to us we will tell the Americans,” she repeated with laughter. “Any nation that goes into a civil war,” she said, “the pressure makes them bitter. They ask, ‘Why us and not you?’ Today I was insulted by three different Iraqis. They feel entitled: ‘We suffered, you didn’t.’ The people who really suffer are those who had a lot—educated, university people. Now they are begging. They show me pictures of what they had.”
    Um Iman worked as a cleaner in the convent. She had come with her husband and three daughters two months earlier. They were Christians and had lived in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood. They had received four letters threatening them with death if they did not leave. One night they took a taxi to a relative’s house in Baghdad, and the next morning they joined a convoy of buses heading to the Syrian border. “There were explosions behind us and in front of us,” she said. Her husband looked for work every day but could find none. She looked defeated to me. “What can we do?” she asked with resignation. “Even if I die of hunger here I don’t want to go back to Iraq. Now there are no Christians in Baghdad.”

Lost Amid the Millions in Cairo

    As Iraq fell apart its human detritus was scattered throughout the region. Lost amid the millions of Cairo, Iraqis could be found struggling with the bureaucracy in the Mugamaa, the massive labyrinthine edifice where all people’s interactions with the Egyptian state began and ended. On the first floor, in the Arab Nations section of the Visa Renewal section, past Somalis and Sudanese sitting and awaiting their turn, was a sign that said, “Booth 23 for Iraqis only.” When I visited in late February 2006 the crowds of Iraqis there exceeded the numbers at the nearby section for Palestinian refugees. Iraqis continued to enter Egypt by the planeload. They came on tourist visas at first, but extended them indefinitely or applied for temporary protection at the UNHCR, and settled into the urban sprawl of Cairo.
    In the Medinat Nasr district, past the Layali Baghdad (Baghdad Nights) restaurant, I found a small Internet cafe owned by Muhamad Abu Rawan, a twenty-seven-year-old Sunni man who fled Iraq on May 15, 2006, with his wife, Lubna, also twenty-seven. Muhamad walked me to their nearby apartment, where we found Lubna watching a soap opera and holding their three-month-old daughter, Rawa. Their home was sparsely decorated: flower patterns on the sofas and carpets, pictures of a forest, a beach and a lake on the walls. Both Muhamad and Lubna were from Basra. Back in Baghdad Muhamad had worked repairing air conditioners for the same electronic appliance company where Lubna, a civil engineer, worked.
    At first they both spoke Egyptian Arabic with me, because, like most Iraqis, they had quickly assimilated into Egyptian culture and had learned the dialect from the country’s famous soap operas and films. At the beginning of the American occupation, Lubna told me, “Our lives were normal, like all Iraqis. Every once in a while the Americans would besiege the area, but my father was never politically active, so the Americans never bothered us.” One morning in December 2004, Lubna’s father, also a civil engineer and structural designer, drove toward the Mansour district to pay his contractors. He took the airport road and got off at the exit that would take him to Mansour, but the roads had been blocked by American soldiers, who were conducting an operation in the area.
    In Yarmuk’s Qahtan Square American soldiers fired into the air as Lubna’s father drove. He sped away to avoid the shots. Perhaps thinking he was attacking them, one American soldier fired at him, and then several others opened fire as well. “He did not have time to close his eyes before he died,” Lubna told me, because there were so many shots in his body. She showed me pictures of his bullet-riddled car, with holes in every side. “That year the Americans were killing many Iraqis on the street,” Muhamad explained. Lubna, her mother, and her two sisters did not learn about his death until later that afternoon, when Iraqi police contacted them. Their neighbors persuaded them to demand compensation, and they approached one of the lawyers the Americans had authorized to deal with such cases. “After one year the lawyer said the Americans had rejected it twice,” Lubna told me as she rocked Rawa steadily and patted her back. The Americans did offer her family seven hundred dollars, but they rejected it as a paltry sum. “My mother had to go back to work as a teacher because my father was the only provider,” Lubna told me.
    At the time, Muhamad still lived in Baghdad’s volatile Dora district, where Shiites and Christians were targeted by Sunni militias. When he picked up a wounded Shiite from the street and took him to the hospital, he found himself targeted by the Sunni militia that had shot the man. They told him they would have killed him were he not a Sunni and forced him to move out of Dora. One year after her father was killed, Lubna and Muhamad got married. They lived with her mother in Hai Jihad, a majority-Sunni district Muhamad described as “very hot.” Two days after they were married, there was a joint American and Iraqi operation in their neighborhood. One hundred and fifty Sunnis were arrested, he told me. “The Americans would surround the neighborhood, and the Iraqi police commandos raided the houses. It was our neighbors and friends. They still haven’t been released.”
    “We were afraid to admit we were Sunnis,” Lubna told me. “All men stopped going to the mosque to pray because they would have been harassed or killed.” Muhamad’s sister was married to a Shiite man, he told me, and they had many friends and relatives who were Shiites. “It’s the militias of Badr and Sadr,” Lubna told me, “they are ruthless.” The company they worked for was owned by a Sunni man, and it had branches in Baghdad and Basra. In Basra twenty members of the company were kidnapped. The Shiites were released, and thirteen Sunni employees were murdered. In Baghdad the company’s Shiite lawyer was killed by Sunni militiamen, a security guard was kidnapped, and the manager was threatened. The owner belonged to the Omar family, a name that gave them away as Sunni, and his company was known as a “Sunni company.” He fled Basra to Baghdad because of threats, and after more threats he fled to the United Arab Emirates. Muhamad was beaten, and his car was stolen. “Every day we heard of people we knew getting killed,” he told me.
    Lubna and Muhamad chose Egypt because the cost of living was cheap and Syria was threatened by the Americans. They came on a three-month tourist visa and rented their apartment, for which they paid three hundred dollars a month. Lubna felt welcomed by the Egyptians, she said, and Muhamad felt at home because the social environment reminded him of Iraq. After they arrived they were joined by Lubna’s mother and her seventeen-year-old sister, Najwa, who attended a private high school. Lubna’s grandfather was dying, so her mother returned to Baghdad to see him, but then she could no longer get permission to return to Cairo. Muhamad heard rumors that Iraqis who had tried to renew their visas at the Mugamaa were deported by Egyptian authorities, so he obtained an asylum-seeker registration card from the UNHCR.
    The couple ran out of their savings, and in December 2006 Muhamad opened his Internet cafe. Lubna hoped to work when Rawa was older. “Our standard of living in Iraq was much better,” she told me. In Medinat Nasr they had Shiite neighbors who had been expelled from a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. I asked if the sectarian problems had followed them here. “On the contrary,” Muhamad said, “we are happy to see any Iraqi so we can speak our dialect.” Lubna added that “the Iraqis who come here are all tired and don’t want to organize or attract attention.”
    Muhamad had to get an Egyptian partner just to open a business. The Egyptian owned 51 percent of the cafe, even though he had not invested anything in it. Muhamad’s friend Haidar helped him out at the cafe. A twenty-three-year-old Shiite pharmacist from Baghdad’s Khadhra district, where Shiites were under attack, Haidar was married to a Sunni woman. After a local supermarket owner and his two brothers were murdered for being Shiite, Haidar began to receive threatening calls. His uncle’s car was stolen and his house burned down, and the walls of the neighborhood were scrawled with notices saying that Shiites’ property was forfeit and could be taken by any Sunni. Haidar’s family sold their house, and the new owner was killed. “All the Shiites in the neighborhood fled,” he told me. Haidar moved to Cairo in September 2006 to arrange a place to live before his wife arrived. But when she applied for the Egyptian visa it was denied, leaving her stranded in Baghdad. Haidar met Muhamad in Cairo. “We get along better here than in Iraq,” he told me. “We feel closer.” Hatred of Shiites was increasing throughout the region, and even in Cairo Haidar did not feel fully comfortable. “On the street and in cabs people ask if I am Sunni or Shiite,” he told me. “They say we are infidels.” One day at the supermarket the grocer heard Haidar’s Iraqi dialect and told him, “Your Shiites are infidels.”
    Egypt had stopped issuing visas to Iraqis, although it was widely rumored that Iraqis who paid bribes at the Egyptian embassies in Syria and Jordan could obtain them. Iraqis in Egypt told me that they had paid hundreds of dollars to visa agencies that managed to obtain visas for their relatives. Egypt had absorbed between two and four million Sudanese, and had refugees from thirty other nationalities. It also had a high rate of unemployment. Egyptians and Sudanese could not find work, so additional Iraqis would further burden the state’s weak social services. Between 100,000 and 140,000 Iraqis lived in Egypt before the influx of refugees, but by March 2007 only 5,500 had registered with UNHCR for an asylum seeker’s card because, in the eyes of a UN official, “not every Iraqi in Egypt is a refugee.” Many of the middle-class Iraqis in Egypt were beginning to run out of resources, and it was only then that they turned to the UN.
    Egypt’s reasons for no longer letting Iraqis in were twofold. In the post-9 /11 world, concern over terrorism justified almost anything. “Tourism is a major industry, so one incident would cost millions in lost revenue,” said the UN official. In addition, Egyptians were afraid of Shiites, an Iraqi diplomat told me, “because they think they have links to Iran.” Many Egyptians had raised fears of a Shiite wave and of Sunnis converting to Shiism. They also feared making permanent demographic changes to Iraq. “You are taking them from Iraq and implanting them somewhere else, and most of them are Sunnis,” a high-ranking Egyptian diplomat told me. “It disturbs me. It means the whole area will be Shiite.”
    Many Iraqi refugees have carried the sectarian bitterness with them. In an apartment complex that resembled American housing projects, only partially occupied and complete, I found a collection of Sunni Iraqis in a courtyard inside, where a few had opened shops. Ghaith, an eighteen-year-old from Amriya, long since cleansed of its Shiites, had owned a supermarket back home and had opened up a small grocery store on the ground floor of the complex in Egypt. He pointed to his twelve-year-old brother playing soccer with other boys and told me that he had been kidnapped in Baghdad and held for one week. Sitting in the grocery store was Dhafer, a round thirty-five-year-old man with a sharp nose and stubble from a few days of neglect. He had the tired look of a defeated man. Originally from Baghdad’s Ghazaliya district, he had been threatened by Shiite neighbors whose sons worked with the Iraqi National Guard and Interior Ministry, he said, and given forty-eight hours to leave. “I brought my relatives for protection and weapons and they escorted us out,” he told me. I asked him why he had then left Amriya. “Civil war,” he said. “All of Baghdad, all of Iraq, is a civil war. The guy who goes on television and says it’s not a civil war is mocking the people.” On August 16, 2005, Dhafer came to Cairo with his wife and son. Since then another son had been born. Dhafer and his family regularly watched Al Zawra TV, the Iraqi satellite channel that broadcast resistance operations and was openly pro-Sunni and anti-Shiite. They had recently seen a video of a Sadrist cleric calling on Shiites to kill Sunnis. “I was not surprised,” he told me. “I know the Shiite sect. But my wife was crying.” Dhafer told me that up to twenty of his friends had already been killed in Baghdad. He had not renewed his residency and instead had applied for refugee status at the UNHCR. Although he missed his family, he never wanted to return to Baghdad. His relatives had also warned him not to return, telling him that it was better to starve outside.
    Next door was a hair salon owned by a Sunni couple from Baghdad’s Ghazaliya district. It was decorated in pink and red in honor of Valentine’s Day, and there was only a chair for one customer at a time. Its owner, Ghada, had taught herself hairdressing after she arrived in Cairo with her husband, Abu Omar, and their three children. Abu Omar, a former colonel in the Iraqi Army, had retired in 1999. After retiring he had opened a stationery shop in the Nafaq al-Shurta district with a friend. The American military raided their home twice. “They said to me, ‘You look like an American woman,’” Ghada said, laughing with pride. The military asked permission to use their roof for surveillance, and Abu Omar agreed. “Could we have said no?” Ghada asked.
    “After the war I started to feel the Iranian influence,” Abu Omar told me. “Before there were no problems between Sunnis and Shiites, but then on television we started hearing people talking about Sunnis or Shiites.” Like many former military officers, Abu Omar was actively involved in the Iraqi resistance. “As long as they are attacking the occupiers or those cooperating with the occupiers,” he said, the Iraqi resistance was honorable. When talking of the resistance, he slipped and said, “we” instead of “they.”
    Shiite militias associated with the Iraqi government obtained lists of former military officers and their personal information, he told me. “Every day we heard names of officers killed,” he said, estimating that he knew at least one hundred people who had been killed since the Americans overthrew Saddam. He was threatened twice in front of his house, and then his partner was assassinated. “After they killed his partner he told me that we must leave in five days,” Ghada told me. She started crying. “They have stolen my house, my furniture. I left everything. Even now I hope to go back. Here we have many troubles. We have no money. It’s very difficult. There you feel that you can die every day. Here I am dying every day. Every day you hear bad news. There is no hope. I lost everything. I was a queen in my house before. I had a home, furniture, a BMW. Now I live in a dirty area. What did I do? What did my children do?” Ghada sold most of her jewelry to help support the family. They had been in Cairo since 2005 and had managed to pay for their children’s school the first year but could no longer afford to.
    Ghada told me that Iraq’s sectarianism had followed them to Cairo, causing problems in their children’s school. Iraqi Shiite boys beat their son Omar, she said. “He hates Shiites so much,” she said, adding that many fights had occurred between Sunni and Shiite Iraqi children. Her son’s fight had been provoked by Saddam Hussein’s execution, which they watched on television. “We had hoped that Saddam would return to lead Iraq. It was like they ripped my heart out,” he told me. “After I saw the images I stayed up all night.” Ghada told me that Egyptian customers had cried with her and consoled her after Saddam’s execution, and they had recited a prayer together. “The ones that Saddam killed,” she said, meaning Shiites, “I would go back and kill more of them. I hate Shiites.”
    Abu Omar still held out some hope that peace could be restored. “If America comes down from her pride and negotiates with resistance, then maybe there can be a solution. The resistance is very strong and has the best officers.” He was not as sectarian as his wife, explaining to me that “there are real Iraqi Shiites, and they have the same feelings we have. It is the Shiites of Iran who are the cause of the problems.” Abu Omar often referred to the resistance as “the patriots,” explaining that “there are Sunni and Shiite patriots. The patriots can defeat the Iranian Shiites.”
    Many former Baathists and Iraqi Army officers had settled in Egypt following the war. Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, frequently visited Cairo, where he met with Egyptian leaders, including his friend Mahdi Akef, leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Association of Muslim Scholars controlled some militias that fought in the resistance. More resistance leaders based themselves across the border from Iraq’s Anbar province, in Amman and Damascus, however. Nearly three years into their war against the occupation, many were growing introspective—much like the tribal leader Sheikh Saad, whom I met in Amman in late 2006.
    In Damascus in February 2007 I met one of the leaders of the Anbar resistance that Sheikh Saad referred to when he told me they had all fled. Sheikh Yassin was a weathered and frail man with a thick white scarf over his head. He fingered black beads as we spoke. He led a mosque in Hit but had fled a month before we met and left it with his sons. Hit had become deserted, he told me. “The situation there has become disastrous,” he said. “They hit my son’s house in an airstrike and destroyed his house and killed my grandson. The people of Hit are caught between Americans on one side and Al Qaeda on the other side. And the police and army do not treat people properly.”
    He too recognized the strategic Sunni error made at the beginning of the American occupation. “That is the origin of the problem: they boycotted. If they had participated with all their weight, they would not have let the Shiite militias take over the government of Iraq.” He blamed the Iraqi Sunni leadership for denouncing elections and threatening those who participated. “They made the wrong interpretation,” he said. “Shiites wanted to prevent Sunnis from voting, and jihadists did as well. The jihadists fight the Americans on one side and on the other side they destroy the community.” Sheikh Yassin had not fled Shiite militias, but rather Al Qaeda. “Sunnis must choose between death or seeking refuge in the Anbar, Syria, or Jordan,” he said.
    Another opponent of Al Qaeda was Sheikh Mudhir al-Khirbit of Ramadi, a former leader of the Confederation of Iraqi Tribes. The Khirbits had been favored by the former regime, and in March 2003 an American airstrike on their home had killed eighteen family members, reason enough for them to seek vengeance. Sheikh Mudhir had sought shelter in Damascus but made frequent trips to Lebanon for medical treatment. The Iraqi government placed him on its new list of forty-one most wanted, and in January 2007, on a medical trip to Lebanon, he was arrested by that country’s Internal Security Forces. His affairs were now being handled by his oldest son, Sattam, who was only eighteen years old but who, according to one Western diplomat, had his father’s trust and went on missions for him. I found Sattam in an apartment in Damascus, dressed in a gray suit, wearing pointy leather shoes, and taking business calls from sheikhs well into the night.
    In 2004, when he was only fifteen, Sattam and an uncle were arrested in an American military raid on their home. “Every tribal sheikh has weapons, machine guns, missiles, Kalashnikovs,” he told me. Sattam was jailed for one month and interrogated about his father’s activities. “They treated me badly,” he said. “We were tied up for two days, and it was really cold.” His uncle was held for three months and was later imprisoned again for one year. Iraq had grown too dangerous for the family’s leadership. “In Ramadi you can’t drive in a car,” he told me. “You don’t know if the Americans or Al Qaeda will kill you. Not only Shiites are slaughtering Sunnis; Sunnis are slaughtering Sunnis.”
    Iraq’s Sunnis were beleaguered, he said. He called the initial Sunni boycott of Iraqi politics “a big mistake,” one that opened the door to Shiite domination. “Now it’s too late,” he said. “People here and in Amman feel like they lost.” The only way to protect Sunnis, in his view, was to establish a Sunni state that would include the Anbar province, Mosul, and Tikrit. Radical Sunnis in groups like Al Qaeda were now in control of Anbar, and the resistance was taking on Al Qaeda as well as the Americans. “Al Qaeda kills Sunnis the most, and you don’t know what they want,” he said. His priority was to deal with Al Qaeda in Anbar first, then reconcile with the Shiites, and then work to end the occupation. “When Sunnis in Baghdad get arrested by the Americans, they feel good because it’s better than being arrested by Shiite militias.” Despite this, he did not bear hostility toward the Shiites. “My father doesn’t differentiate between Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians,” he said. “We don’t have anything against Shiites. Shiites didn’t kill eighteen people from our family—the Americans did.”
    Another longtime resistance fighter was Abu Ali, commander of Jeish Nasr Salahedin (The Army of Salahedin’s Victory) in the Tikrit area. A short, stern man wearing a brown jacket, a sweater showing his shirt collar, and green pants, he had a small mustache atop his tight lips and spoke without expression in a low voice. He had arrived in Damascus with two comrades who were wounded and could not get treatment in Iraq. “Our people here said they could help them,” he told me. The Americans had raided his home, and he had not slept there for two years, stealing only occasional visits to see his family. I was told that Abu Ali had led a much-publicized attack on the American base in Tikrit on the day American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended a ceremony handing it over to the Iraqi army, and he confirmed this.
    “They expressed democracy with bullets against demonstrators,” he said of the Americans. “I will keep fighting until the last American and Iranian leaves.” Abu Ali added that he anticipated a clash with Al Qaeda as well. Although there was no political leadership in the resistance, he said, “there are politicians, and we express our ideas to them.” He worried that the resistance was becoming too public, with many people appearing on television and claiming they led it. “The secret of the success of the resistance is that nobody knows who we are,” he said. “If we make it public, then we will be like Palestine, sixty years and no state.”

“Nothing positive has come from the Iraqis,” he said. “You can’t trust an Iraqi.”

    The prospect of the Palestinian refugee crisis happening all over again is especially worrisome for Jordan. At least half its population of nearly six million people are Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in 1948 or 1967. Following the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwait expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, most of whom ended up in Jordan. Jordan has close and longstanding ties to Iraq, dating back to that country’s monarchy.
    In a fast food restaurant in Amman I sat with a major from Jordan’s powerful General Intelligence Directorate. He insisted that there were more than one million Iraqis in Jordan, though in truth the number never exceeded more than a few hundred thousand. He denied that they were refugees because they had not been forced out of Iraq. When I asked him what he expected a Sunni living in Shiite militia-dominated Basra to do, he told me that the Sunni should merely move to a Sunni area of Iraq. “Nothing positive has come from the Iraqis,” he said. “You can’t trust an Iraqi.” Like most Jordanians he complained that the influx of Iraqis had tripled housing prices.
    After Iraqis associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda movement struck two Jordanian hotels in November 2005, detonating suicide bombs in a wedding, Iraqis began facing interrogations at the border. Beginning in 2006 Jordan imposed strict restrictions on the entry of Iraqis. By the end of that year a sign on the Jordanian border proclaimed that men between eighteen and thirty-five years of age could not enter. Families entering with many suitcases or belongings were turned away as well. Many Iraqis entering Jordan at the border and airport reported being questioned about whether they were Sunni or Shiite. Shiites were more likely to be turned away. Once in Jordan, Iraqis could register with UNHCR for their temporary protection cards.
    At first, Iraqis were given three-month tourist visas; but when they left Jordan to renew the visas, they could not return. As a result, many Iraqis chose not to leave and fell into illegal status. Underground, they were unable to work formally and often didn’t get paid for the work they did illegally. Many young Iraqi men left their families behind and came to Jordan seeking work. They lived in virtually empty apartments, the only furniture being mattresses on the floor. Their children did not have access to schools or medical care. In February 2006, there were officially fourteen thousand Iraqi children in Jordanian private schools.
    Jordanian society was very sympathetic with the plight of Iraq’s Sunnis, but Shiites had a hard time there. A young Iraqi Shiite man working with an NGO in Jordan reported being regularly questioned about his identity. Major Jordanian newspapers like Al Rai often published anti-Shiite articles, he said. “In Jordan, if you want to work they might ask you if you are Shiite or Sunni, and if you are Shiite you can’t work,” he told me. “Taxi drivers ask me, ‘Are you Iraqi? Are you Sunni or Shiite?’” If he answered truthfully, they would ask him why he was helping the Americans. “After Saddam was executed, they asked me, ‘Why didn’t Iraqis make a revolution after his execution?’ They don’t believe Saddam committed crimes. I told one I am Iraqi and Shiite. He asked, ‘Are you supporting those Iranians killing Iraqis?’ I don’t argue, I don’t want trouble or to be taken to police station. I bought a bicycle to avoid the taxi drivers.”
    Dr. Mouayad al-Windawi was a Shiite professor of political science who left the University of Baghdad in May 2005. “In my first lesson after the war, I said this will be a disaster and bring us nothing. We will live in chaos for a long time.” A member of the Baath Party until 2001, he explained to me that under Saddam there was some sectarianism, but it was not overt. A glass ceiling kept many Shiites from advancing too high. “I worked with the Iraqi government for the last forty years,” he said. “Not much attention was paid to who you are.” I asked him how sectarianism had increased after the war. “Ask Mr. Bremer,” he told me, referring to Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. “Bremer’s system for political parties was good for blocs, not parties. It was good for Kurds and [Supreme Council leader] Hakim. Nationalists boycotted the political process after 2003, but the hawza and Sistani told Shiites to wait and see, and Sunnis had no such guy to issue a fatwa. The Jaafari government forced Sunnis to see themselves as defending themselves and not the nation. Former Baathists and nationalists like me have no place. I realized there is no future. I told my family we have to stay ten years away from the country.”
    Mouayad lived in Adhamiya, a Sunni stronghold in Baghdad. Members of Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad militia attacked his house. His brother, married to a Sunni woman, was kidnapped and released after a ransom of twenty-five thousand dollars was paid. He then fled to Damascus. “I realized that the country would have a civil war one way or another,” he told me. “I still believe the worst is coming, not only to Iraq but in the region. It’s the first stage of a conflict that might lead to a Sunni bloc against Shiites. There is no hope for the future.” A month before I met Mouayad, his house was occupied by a Sunni militia. Two days before we met, a relative of his was killed when mortars landed on his home.
    In Jordan Mouayad was working as a consultant for the political advisory group to the United Nations ambassador to Iraq. “Jordanians were very cooperative until last summer,” he said, “but they realized the civil war might lead to new wave. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis in Jordan are Sunnis because Sunni areas in Iraq are under attack.” He did not expect the sectarianism to spread to Jordan. “In Jordan security is too strong, and Iraqis here don’t want to engage in sectarianism. But over time things might change.”
    Many officers from the former regime in Iraq had chosen to settle in Jordan. I met two one rainy evening at the home of Maj. Gen. Walid Abdel Maliki, a former assistant to the minister of defense before the war. With him was Gen. Raed al-Hamdani, a former commander in the Republican Guard Corps. Both men, I was told, “had contacts” with the Iraqi resistance. As we sat down, Abdel Maliki’s young son burst into the living room. “This is the Mahdi Army,” Abdel Maliki told me as he kissed his son, “his behavior in the house.” The two former generals were nostalgic for the time before Iraq was overrun with sectarianism. “We never had this sort of fighting before between Sunnis and Shiites,” said Abdel Maliki. “Saddam didn’t believe in Sunnis or Shiites; he was tribal. Saddam didn’t put down the Shiite rebellion because they were Shiite but because it was an uprising. The soldiers who put down the Shiite uprising were Shiites. We never heard from our fathers and grandfathers such a thing as is happening now. The problem now is from Sunni and Shiite political leaders: Hakim, Dhari, and Adnan Dulaimi are playing the same game.” Abdel Maliki blamed Iran for the problems in Iraq. “It’s a military idea, to move the battle from your land to the enemy’s land,” he said, and Iran sought to confront the U.S. in Iraq. “Iranian occupation is worse than American occupation. The only way is a military solution. Al Qaeda, the Shiite militias, the Iranian groups—they have their own agendas but don’t want to solve their problems. We have to attack Al Qaeda and the militias. Thousands of Iraqi officers can help Americans.”
    General Hamdani, Abdel Maliki’s former superior officer, had fought and lost in six wars against Americans, Iranians, Kurds, and Israelis. He had been severely wounded in 1991. “The hardest loss was this last one. We were given the responsibility to defend our country. We lost the war and we lost our country.” Hamdani also resisted a sectarian approach to Iraq. “It is a mistake to think Sunnis ruled Shiites,” he said. “Most of the coup attempts against Saddam were Sunni. If we have a point of view on Iraq, it is as Iraqis, not as Sunnis. There are nationalists and those who are not nationalists.”
    He did not think the Sunni boycott of the Iraqi government had been problematic. “Many Iraqi Sunnis participated in the government. What was the result? Nothing.” Although Hamdani thought the Iraqi resistance should continue its struggle, he too saw a larger threat. “These groups were established to fight the occupation, but now I think the danger from Iran is greater than from America. American national interests and the resistance’s interests are the same. The U.S. did itself harm by demonizing the Iraqi resistance and anyone who deals with it. They have prevented the emergence of moderates who can sit and negotiate, and you see now, four years after the invasion, the strongest factions are Al Qaeda and not the nationalists.”
    Hamdani was involved in a new political party called Huquq, which was formed by Dr. Hassan Bazzaz in August 2006. Bazzaz was a professor of international relations who taught at the University of Baghdad. He left Iraq two months before I met him in February 2007. “I just ran away. I was afraid they will kill me,” he said, referring to the Shiite militias. Being a well-known professor was a sufficient reason to be targeted, he explained. When I entered his office he was on the phone with someone in Iraq. “Where did they find him?” he asked. “Who shot him? The Americans?”
    Bazzaz was also from Adhamiya. “Good fighters, good people,” he said of his former neighborhood. “It never fell.”
    The Americans had just initiated their new security plan for Iraq, and Bazzaz was trying to be optimistic. “Everything must come to an end, and I don’t think this will go on forever,” he said. “We are not the first nation to get occupied by a foreign power or the first nation to fight among itself. The Americans are doing it for their own benefit, and we, the Sunni people, can benefit from that.” Although he struggled to be optimistic, he still placed hopes in the resistance. “If things get worse, then we, the people who are talking politically, will take the military option,” he said. “The Sunni Arab neighbors will have to support us. The worst is coming.”
    In February 2007 I met Mishan al-Juburi of Al Zawra TV in the offices of a charter airline company in downtown Damascus he claimed belonged to his wife. Two heavy-set thuggish young men stood guard. As I sat down, he began complaining about a recent New York Times story about him. “It’s completely from a dream,” he said angrily. “All the story except my name is not correct.”
    Juburi told me his version of his life’s story. He claimed to have been a businessman in Baghdad’s Shorja market. “I knew Saddam personally,” he said, “and gave him my full support. Saddam tried to show he was a winner and he didn’t care about those who supported him. I lost my son in a car accident and criticized the health minister.” Juburi claims that this criticism provoked the ire of the regime. He told me his father had led the Juburi tribe but that since Mishan had an older brother, he was never expected to lead the tribe. “I like city,” he said. “I don’t want to be tribal.” He also claimed to have been involved in a coup attempt by the Juburi tribe. “I tried to kill Saddam, and he killed thirty-five people from my family: my brother, my cousins. I lost ninety-five people from my family to Saddam, but it’s indisputable that Saddam was better. I’m sorry I opposed him.”
    He had lived in Jordan, Turkey, Britain, and Syria, he told me, and had founded the Iraqi Homeland Party. Before the war he had taken part in an opposition conference in Salahaddin, in Kurdistan. Now he regretted his participation in this conference: “I trusted the American lie of building democracy in Iraq, and I found myself a part of the American destruction of Iraq.” He claimed he had come to this realization one month after the war ended, when Bremer declared the American presence in Iraq to be an occupation.
    Immediately following the war, Juburi and his militia went down to Mosul from Erbil, where he had been staying as a guest of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. “Barzani is my friend. I fully support an independent Kurdistan.” He claimed Barzani’s militia had helped him take Mosul. I asked him what had become of his militia, and Juburi told me, “I think they are resisting.”
    I expressed surprise at his support for an independent Kurdistan. “I believe it’s good for the Iraqi future,” he said, though he admitted that the Kurds were planning on cleansing the Arabs of Kirkuk. He told me he had remained in Mosul for one month and then arranged for an election. “I didn’t put my name or any name of my family” on the list of candidates, he said, somewhat implausibly. After the elections in Mosul, he left for Baghdad and eventually joined the Iraqi government and Parliament. His small party, he said, received 142,000 votes in the first Iraqi elections.
    Juburi was known for his sectarian attacks on Iraq’s Shiite leaders and militias, whom he called “Safawis,” the Arabic way of saying “Safavid,” the name of a Persian dynasty that ruled from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. It is a common epithet used to imply that Iraq’s Shiites are not Arabs but are part of an Iranian or Persian conspiracy to gain hegemony over them. “On April 18, 2005, I said the government is Safawi,” he said proudly. “I’m the first man to use the word ‘Safawi.’ Since then I haven’t gone to Parliament. The first Jaafari government was Safawi-Persian. We are not against Shiites; we are against Safawis. We fear Iran. The Americans will leave; first we are afraid of Iran.”
    In November 2005 he established Al Zawra TV. “From the first day we said we are going to say what no one else dares to say,” he told me. At first Al Zawra was known for its entertainment programs, but after Juburi’s immunity as a Parliament member was lifted following charges of corruption and aiding the resistance, the channel began broadcasting proresistance propaganda. Since most of Al Zawra’s target audience in the Middle East did not have access to the Internet, Juburi rebroadcast the propaganda videos that many had seen worldwide online. The videos consisted of members of the resistance preparing for or conducting operations against the Americans. Two commentators, a man in military attire and a veiled woman, occasionally provided news bulletins. Although his channel was praised by the resistance, many also expressed their skepticism about Juburi for being “opportunistic.”
    Al Zawra received widespread attention throughout the Arab world, and many Iraqi Sunnis in exile watched it as well. One newspaper in Jordan, Al Arab al-Yawm, wrote that only Al Zawra transmitted the reports of the resistance without focusing on suicide attacks that promoted sectarianism. The newspaper praised Al Zawra’s stance against the occupation and its call for the overthrow of the “puppet sectarian regime.” The channel was unique and important, the paper said, because there was otherwise a media blackout imposed on the resistance. The channel showed Arab children the real picture of Iraq, praising the “martyr leader Saddam Husayn.”
    In April 2006 Juburi absconded to northern Iraq and Erbil, where his friend Barzani provided him with safe haven. “If I stayed in Baghdad the government militias would kill me,” he said. “Maliki told me he would execute me if I opposed the government. I am against the Iranians in Iraq, so the authorities accuse me of certain things. Now the office in Baghdad is destroyed.” The Americans eventually closed down his station in Erbil too. He explained that he broadcasted from Anbar using mobile transmitters on taxis and other vehicles.
    When we met he was running his station from Damascus with the help of his son and publishing a pro-Sunni newspaper. He claimed that he alone funded the station. “I was one of the top-ten richest men in Iraq,” he said. Al Zawra was broadcast by the Egyptian satellite network Nilesat. Juburi expressed glee in the distress he was causing as a gadfly. “The Americans pushed me to be against them,” he said. “I know how much I give them a headache.” He would soon also be broadcast by Arabsat and Hot Bird, a European company.
    Juburi maintained that Zarqawi and other Salafis had hurt the Sunni cause. They had sought to provoke a civil war, he said, and they had succeeded. “That’s why Sunni society doesn’t support them,” he said. “There are clashes between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi resistance, which we consider ourselves to be a part of.” Al Zawra had become a symbol of the resistance everywhere, he told me. “The resistance are serving us; we have relations with all the resistance in Iraq except Al Qaeda,” he said. “We never show anything from them. Al Qaeda is a danger like America in the Middle East. We don’t want to make the mistake they made in Afghanistan.”
    Like many Sunnis, Juburi feared a potential genocide of the Sunnis of Iraq. He believed that Sunni children and women would leave the country. He did not think the Shiites had won yet. “If we are outside the city but Shiites cannot leave their homes, then you cannot say that there is a winner to the civil war,” he said. Unlike some Sunni leaders, he did not think the Sunni boycott of the Iraqi government had been a strategic error. “If you push people to join the Iraqi police and army, it means you accept the American occupation.”
    Although Juburi was ready to criticize Iraq’s Shiites and what he saw as their Iranian sponsors, he refrained from criticizing Lebanese Hizballah, a successful Shiite resistance movement. Many Sunni Iraqis saw Hizballah as an Iranian proxy and were thus hostile to the movement. Juburi told me he did not want to talk about Hizballah, possibly because he was a guest of the Syrians, themselves supporters of the movement. He conceded that Hizballah’s general secretary was very charismatic and expressed his admiration for Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese cleric formerly associated with Hizballah. “I love Fadlallah especially,” Juburi told me. He agreed with me that it was ironic that in Lebanon the Sunnis supported American policy while the Shiites were opposed to the Americans.
    He predicted that Al Zawra would soon go live on the Internet. “We use the Internet the way photography was used in Vietnam,” he said. “We will cause Bush a real headache. We will show the reality of American soldiers. America must apologize for what it did to Iraq.”
    In January 2007 Juburi famously debated Sadeq al-Musawi, a Shiite Iraqi journalist, on Al Jazeera. Juburi came out swinging, asking Musawi to recite a prayer for the soul of “the martyred president Saddam Hussein.” Musawi refused, condemning Saddam instead. Juburi called Musawi a Persian, and Musawi responded that Juburi was a thief. Juburi claimed to have evidence that Musawi was an Iranian, and Musawi claimed that Juburi’s father had killed Kurds. Juburi called Musawi a “Persian shoe.” Musawi stormed off the set, and Juburi continued alone, praising the executed Saddam. Invoking sectarianism and the ancient split between Sunnis and Shiites, Juburi said that the people who killed Saddam were the same people who had killed the caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab and who hated the caliph Abu Bakr and the other companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Although Musawi eventually returned to the set, his exchange with Juburi was no less acrimonious.
    In February 2007 Juburi made a speech condemning Al Qaeda for provoking Iraq’s Shiites while failing to protect Sunnis from Shiite retaliation, for imposing itself on other resistance groups, for killing Iraq’s Sunni leaders, for seeking to create a Taliban state in Iraq, and for killing a messenger sent by Juburi to negotiate with them. Juburi warned that Iraq’s Sunnis would fight Al Qaeda. Following his speech, many jihadist websites and forums condemned Juburi. Although the Egyptians had ignored threats from the ruling Shiites in Iraq, in February Nilesat finally pulled the plug on Juburi’s channel (other satellite networks continued to broadcast it). The Americans, who had long been pressuring the Egyptians to shut Al Zawra down, finally succeeded.
    Others I spoke to disputed Juburi’s account of himself. Amatzia Baram of the University of Haifa, an expert on Iraq’s tribes and its former regime, was one of them. According to Baram, who also advised the American government: “He is a middle-level sheikh of the Jubbur [tribe], originating from the vicinity of Tikrit. In the mid-1980s he was approached by Saddam to recruit young and uncouth Juburis that would go through a crash (and often crush) course of army officers and then sent to the front with Iran to lead troops in battle. Saddam believed that country tribal boys were tough, very Arab (no mix with Turkish or Persian genes or culture), and imbued with traditional tribal ideals—murua (manliness or nobleness), sharraf (honor)—and so they will fight the Iranians tooth and nail. Actually, they did prove themselves. Saddam promoted them at a neck-breaking speed in the war. Your man claims that he recruited fifty thousand such, but he is exaggerating. Still, he did a good job. Now, many Juburis were angry at Saddam for other reasons and planned a coup d’état in January 1990. Saddam exposed it and executed many Juburi army officers, imprisoned or just sacked others. It became dangerous to be a senior Juburi for a while. I don’t know whether your guy was or wasn’t part of the plot, but he felt that the soil was burning under his feet, and fled. He always tried to present himself as far more important than he really was. He returned to Baghdad in 2003 but was not successful in attracting meaningful Juburi support. He always had money, who knows where from. Assad? CIA? Saudis and Gulfies?”
    An Iraqi politician close to many Sunni leaders and the resistance who also lived in Syria provided me with another account. My source, who preferred anonymity, explained, “The resistance has doubts about him. They are using him, but they won’t give him their trust to speak in their name. When the occupation ends they will judge him for all that he did.” He was referring to charges the Iraqi government had made that Juburi had run off with millions of dollars he had been paid for contracts he never completed. He had allegedly used that money to launch his television station.
    My source explained that under Saddam’s regime Juburi had worked for the Jumhuriya newspaper. Juburi then met Saddam’s son Uday and fell into his good graces. Juburi came from a poor family, my source told me, but he had made deals with Uday during the sanctions era and had stolen money from Uday before fleeing to Jordan and Syria, taking advantage of the fact that Syria would not hand him over to Saddam. Juburi then pretended he was using money to overthrow the government. My source mocked Juburi for attending the Iraqi opposition conferences in London and Salahaddin before the war, legitimizing the American occupation. When the former regime learned of a coup being plotted by members of the Jubbur tribe, many members were executed, including Juburi’s brother, his wife’s brother, and many military officers from the tribe.
    “When the Americans invaded,” my source explained, “he came down with the Kurds to Mosul, and he participated in robbing banks and burning them. He tried to lead Mosul and gave a speech, and people threw shoes and vegetables at him. He bought a lot of votes and got three seats in Parliament. His tribe has rejected him because he came on the back of American tanks.” My source explained that Juburi received various building contracts but never built anything. He also received a contract to provide security for oil pipelines. “When he started clashing with the government, they opened his file, and the first file they opened was the pipelines,” my source said, adding that some Sunni Iraqi politicians had appealed to Juburi to stop promoting sectarianism. “We told him he serves the American agenda of dividing Iraqis,” he said.

The Battle of Nahr al-Barid: Iraq Comes to Lebanon

    IT WASN’T ONLY IRAQI REFUGEES WHO WERE LEAVING THE COUNTRY. Al Qaeda in Iraq was searching for new sanctuaries as well. Most countries in the region were harsh dictatorships with strong security services that would never countenance an influx of the new “Arab Afghans,” veterans of the jihad in Iraq, the way they had after the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s. But with its weak state, sectarian structure and divisions, foreign interventions, and extreme social inequalities, Lebanon was especially vulnerable to the destabilizing influences of the civil war in Iraq. Best of all, large swaths of it were ungoverned, and there was a Sunni community that felt increasingly insecure. Though there were many differences between the two countries, Lebanon showed a possible glimpse of what parts of Iraq might look like—especially if, as in Lebanon, there was never any process of justice, truth, or accountability to grapple with the civil war and the massacres.
    The wave of Sunni extremism and the regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia were especially felt in Lebanon. Fighting in the northern Nahr al-Barid refugee camp near Tripoli and street clashes in January and May 2008 were a sign that the war in Iraq was spilling over into neighboring countries, with fighters, weapons, tactics, and sectarian tensions all making their way to Lebanon and elsewhere. The clashes were also a sign that America’s “New Middle East,” based on supporting U.S. client states at the expense of rival movements that had more popularity or legitimacy, was failing. America’s support for Sunni regimes that manipulated sectarianism was increasing radicalism in the region and threatening to provoke a larger regional conflict.
    While many analysts were promoting a theory of “Shiite revival” in the Middle East, recent events in Lebanon and the region pointed to a Sunni revival. According to a Lebanese political scientist I spoke to, Amer Mohsen, the Shiite revival, spoken of with fear by Sunni dictators in the Middle East and with pride by supporters, was passé. It had happened in 1979, when the Shah of Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini. “If by revival we designate a movement revolutionizing Shiite thought or the way Shiites think of themselves, this already happened in 1979 in much of the Middle East, and that movement reached its apex and is no longer in fashion,” he said. “Hizballah in Lebanon is gaining popularity not based on the notions of the Iranian Revolution but as a communitarian movement working in the context of identity politics, much like the other movements in Lebanon. And it is the same thing in Iraq, where Shiite movements have no clear ideological commitment. If by revival we mean increased power for Shiite groups within their countries, that would apply solely to Iraq, where the fall of Saddam supposedly catapulted Shiites to a position of power they had not had since the creation of the country. But this is also a local phenomenon, whose conclusion is still undecided. There is clearly (in the case of Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon) a phenomenon of Shiites identifying more openly with their sectarian affiliation and building political projects on that basis. But that is a case of the resurgence of identity politics throughout the Middle East in the last years, in which sense, there is a Shiite revival, a Sunni revival, a Druze revival, an Alawite revival, and a Kurdish revival all happening simultaneously.”
    Amal Saad Ghorayeb, an expert on Shiite movements I spoke to during my time in Lebanon, saw a Sunni revival in the region running on two parallel tracks: “one being the Al Qaeda paradigm, whose sectarianism is religiously, doctrinally, and ideologically based, and which aspires to represent a new resistance, a revolutionary and populist model for the region’s Sunnis. While it is not necessarily a reaction to the Shiite Hizballah-Iranian model, it does seek to compete with it. It is insurgent (on a national level) and a resistance or jihadi trend (on the global level). It is a transnational antisystem phenomenon or antiestablishment, anti-world order movement.
    “In parallel with this trend is the narrower state-sponsored Sunni sectarian model, which is social and political in nature, is closely interwoven with ruling establishments and personalities, may or may not overlap with the Salafi trend in some cases, but is ultimately a reaction to what is perceived as a growing Shiite threat, as distilled from Arab rulers’ discourse and the media. Unlike the Al Qaeda paradigm, though, it cannot compete ideologically with Shiite resistance, nor does it seek to. The Sunni revival is a product of insurgent/ jihadist/antiestablishment forces as well as proestablishment forces. In both cases, a revival is taking place insofar as Sunni Islam is seen as being the most effective tool for mobilizing support and achieving objectives.”
    Mohsen believed that what mainstream Sunni leaders were doing was taking the racist discourse of anti-Shiite extremists (like Zarqawi) and inflating it into a mainstream discourse among Sunni masses. Saad Ghorayeb, on the other hand, insisted that Sunni Arab regimes had appropriated this discourse not so much from Salafis but from the United States, whose leaders and pundits spoke of those who are loyal to Iran and of a Shiite crescent.
    Lebanon, in particular, had seen a spectacular revival of Sunni identity and a reshaping of traditional Sunni attitudes since 2005. Order in Lebanon had been maintained by Syrian political and military domination, now referred to as an occupation by opponents of Syria. The Syrians had first intervened in Lebanon in 1976 at the request of the Lebanese president to support right-wing militia